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Language and Nature Author(s): Noam Chomsky Source: Mind, New Series, Vol. 104, No. 413 (Jan., 1995), pp. 1-61 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association Stable URL: Accessed: 24/10/2008 00:50
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Language and Naturel


1. Language as a natural object

I would like to discuss an approach to the mindthatconsiderslanguage andsimilarphenomena to be elementsof the natural world,to be studied by ordinary methodsof empirical I will be usingtheterms"mind" inquiry. and"mental" herewithno metaphysical ThusI understand import. "mental"to be on a parwith"chemical", "optical", or "electrical". Certain phenomena,events, processes and states are informallycalled "chemical" etc., but no metaphysical divideis suggestedthereby. The termsareused to select certainaspectsof the worldas a focus of inquiry. Wedo not seek
to determine the true criterion of the chemical, or the mark of the electrical, or the boundaries of the optical. I will use "mental" the same way,

with somethinglike ordinarycoverage,but no deeperimplications.By I just meanthe mentalaspectsof the world,with no moreinterest "mind" in sharpening the boundaries or findinga criterion thanin othercases. I'll use the terms"linguistic" and "language" in much the same way. We focus attentionon aspectsof the worldthatfall underthis informal rubric,and try to understand them better.In the course of doing so we may-and apparently do-develop a conceptthatmoreor less resembles the informalnotion of "language", and.postulatethat such objects are amongthe thingsin the world,alongsideof complexmolecules,electrical fields,the humanvisualsystem,andso on. A naturalistic approach to linguisticand mentalaspectsof the world seeks to construct intelligibleexplanatory theories,takingas "real" what we areled to posit in this quest,andhopingfor eventualunification with the "core" natural sciences:unification, not necessarily reduction. Largescale reduction is rarein the historyof the sciences.Commonly the more "fundamental" sciencehas hadto undergo radicalrevisionfor unification to proceed. The case of chemistry and physics is a recent example;
?1 of this paper is based on the Homer Smith lecture at the New York University School of Medicine, May 16, 1994 and on the Jacobsen lecture, University of London, May 23, 1994. ?2 is based on a lecture entitled "Linguistics from an Individualistic Perspective" delivered at the Centre for Philosophical Studies, King's College London, May 24, 1994.
Mind, Vol. 104. 413. January 1995 ?D Oxford University Press 1995

Noam Chomsky

Pauling'saccountof the chemicalbond unifiedthe disciplines,but only revolutionin physics made these steps possible. The afterthe quantum unification of muchof biology with chemistrya few yearslatermightbe as genuinereduction, butthatis not common,andhas no particregarded ular epistemologicalor other significance;"expansion"of physics to incorporate whatwas knownaboutvalence,the Periodictable,chemical In the present weights, and so on is no less valid a form of unification. on natcase, the theoriesof languageandmindthatseembest established of a computational properties uralistic attribute to the mind/brain grounds thoughnot enough is known to explain kind that are well-understood, Thatposes of cells can have suchproperties. how a structure constructed but of a familiar kind. a unification problem, We do not know how eventualunification mightproceedin this case, or if we have hit uponthe rightcategoriesto seek to unify,or even if the simplyto questionfalls withinour cognitivereach.We have no warrant network areto be reducedto "neural propassumethatmentalproperties Similar Churchland to take a claim 1994). pro(Patricia erties", typical have often provenfalse in otherdomainsand are without nouncements any particularscientific merit in this case. If the thesis about neural well andgood;we waitand is understood as a research proposal, networks rather seriousquestionsarise. see. If moreis intended, As for the matterof cognitivereach,if humansare partof the natural beings,thenhumanintelligencehas its scope and world,not supernatural by initial design. We can thus anticipatethatcertain limits, determined questionswill not fall withintheircognitivereach,just as ratsareunable concepts. properties, lackingthe appropriate to runmazeswithnumerical Such questions we might call "mysteries-for-humans", just as some questions pose mysteries-for-rats. Among these mysteries may be properly questionswe raise,andotherswe do not knowhow to formulate or at all. Thesetruismsdo not chargehumanswith "FeebleIntelligence". We do not condemnthe humanembryoas "feeble"because its genetic are rich enough to enable it to become a human,hence to instructions if "questions blockotherpathsof development. Everyonewouldapplaud shift statusfromMysteriesWe Can Only Contemplate in Awe, to Tough We Are Beginningto Crack" Problems 1994).2 To demon(Churchland strate the shiftformatters andone of traditional concernis no smallorder, thehorizonsremainas remoteas ever,perhaps for mayfairlyaskwhether reasonsrootedin the humanbiologicalendowment. Daniel Dennett arguesthat the notion of "epistemicboundedness", while "doctrinallyconvenient", is "rhetoricallyunstable", because
2 The target of the derisive comments is McGinn (1991); McGinn points out the fallacy of the argument.See also McGinn (1993) and Chomsky (1975a).

Language and Nature

and [Jerry] brain "Chomsky Fodorhavehailedthe capacityof the human the officialinfinityof gramto parse,andhence presumably understand, matical sentences of a naturallanguage", including those "thatbest express the solutions to the problemsof free will or consciousness", whichhe mistakenly claimsI have declared"off-limits" (Dennett1991). But even if the solutionscan be formulated in humanlanguage-which is fallacious.First,as is wellhasto be shown,notasserted-the argument known, expressions of naturallanguage are often unparseable(not becauseof length,or complexityin some sense independent of the nature of the languagefaculty).Second,even if parsedandassignedan interpretation,theymaybe utterlyincomprehensible; examplesareall too easy to find. Thehistoryof the advanced sciencesofferssomeinsightsintothe quest Takeas a starting that for unification. pointthe "mechanical philosophy" reached its apogeein the 17thcentury: theideathattheworldis a machine This concepof the kindthatcouldbe constructed by a skilledcraftsman. tion of the world has its roots in common sense understanding, from which it drew the crucial assumption that objects can interact only through direct contact. As is familiar, Descartes arguedthat certain aspectsof the world-crucially, the normaluse of language-lie beyond the boundsof mechanism. To accountfor them,he postulated a new prina second substance,whose essence is thought. ciple; in his framework, The "unification problem"arose as a questionaboutthe interactionof dualismwas naturalistic in essence, body and mind.This metaphysical evidencefor factualthesesabouttheworld-wrong ones, usingempirical but then,thatis the rule. The Cartesian whenNewtonshowed theorycollapsedsoon afterwards, thatterrestrial andplanetary motionlie beyondtheboundsof themechanical philosophy-beyond what was understoodto be body, or matter. Whatremained was a pictureof the worldthatwas "antimaterialist", and that"reliedheavilyon spiritual forces",as Jacob(1988) putsit. of gravitywas sharply condemned Newton'sinvocation by leadingsciE. entists. J. Dijksterhuis pointsoutthat"theleadersof the truemechanistic philosophyregardedthe theory of gravitation(to use the words of thathadbeen Boyle andHuygens)as a relapseinto medievalconceptions thoughtexploded, and as a kind of treasonagainst the good cause of naturalscience"(1986, pp. 479ff). Newton's "mysterious force"was a returnto the darkages from which scientists had "emancipated themselves", "the scholastic physics of qualities and powers"", "animistic andthe like, whichadmitted interaction without explanatory principles", "direct contact". It was as if "Newtonhadstatedthatthe sun generates in the planetsa qualitywhichmakesthemdescribeellipses".In theircorre-

Noam Chomsky

spondence, LeibnizandHuygenscondemn Newtonfor abandoning sound andreverting "mechanical principles" to mystical"sympathies andantipand inexplicablequalities". athies","immaterial Newton seems to have agreed.The contextof his famouscommentthat"Iframeno hypotheses" was anexpression of concernoverhis inabilityto "assignthecauseof this power" of gravity, which so departs from "mechanicalcauses". He thereforehad to contenthimself with the conclusion"thatgravitydoes reallyexist",its laws explaining"allthe motionsof the celestialbodies, and of our sea"-though he regardedthe principlehe postulatedas an To the end of his life, Newton sought some "subtlespirit "absurdity". which pervadesand lies hid in all gross bodies"thatwould accountfor interaction, electricalattraction and repulsion,the effect of light, sensation,andthe way "members of animalbodiesmove at thecommand of the will". Similareffortscontinued for centuries (see Dijksterhuis 1986). These concerns,at the originsof modernscience, have somethingof the flavourof contemporary discussion of the "mind-bodyproblem". Theyalso raisequestionsaboutwhatis at stake.ThomasNagel observes that"thevariousattempts to carryout this apparently impossibletask [of mindto matter] andthe arguments reducing to show thattheyhavefailed, makeupthe historyof the philosophy of mindduring thepastfiftyyears". the materialist Thehopelesstaskis to "complete worldpicture" by transthatis in termsof "a description latingaccountsof "mental phenomena" eitherexplicitly physical or uses only terms that can apply to what is conditions" on "exterentirelyphysical",or perhapsgives "assertibility reviewof nallyobservable grounds" (Nagel 1993,p. 37). In an instructive a century of the philosophy of mind,TylerBurgediscussestheemergence of "naturalism" in the 1960s as "one of ("materialism", "physicalism") in American the view thatthereare no the few orthodoxies philosophy": mentalstates(properties, etc.) "overandaboveordinary physicalentities, entitiesidentifiable in the physicalsciencesor entitiesthatcommonsense as physical"(Burge1992, pp. 31-2). wouldregard Suchdiscussionsassume,contrary to Newtonandhis contemporaries, thatNewtonremained within"thematerialist thatwould worldpicture"; be true only if we understand"the materialist world picture"to be whatever science constructs, however it departs from "mechanical causes". Toputit differently, the discussionspresuppose some antecedent understanding of what is physical or material,what are the physical entities.These termshad some sense withinthe mechanical philosophy, butwhatdo theymeanin a worldbasedon Newton's"mysterious force", or still moremysterious notionsof fields of force, curvedspace, infinite one-dimensional stringsin ten-dimensional space, or whateverscience concocts tomorrow? Lackinga concept of "matter" or "body"or "the


physical",we have no coherentway to formulateissues relatedto the Thesewererealproblems "mind-body problem". of sciencein the daysof the mechanical philosophy. Since its demise, the sciences postulate whatever finds a place in intelligible explanatory theory, however offensive that may be to common sense. Only on unjustifieddualistic assumptions can such qualmsbe raisedspecificallyaboutthe domainof the mental,not otheraspectsof the world. The anti-materialism of the Newtonianssoon becameestablished. By mid-eighteenth century,Diderot'smaterialist commitments were apparentlya factorin his overwhelming rejectionrfor in the Royal membership Society.Humewrotethat"Newtonseemedto drawoff the veil fromsome of the mysteriesof nature", but "he showedat the same time the imperfections of the mechanicalphilosophy;and therebyrestored[Nature's] ultimatesecrets to that obscurityin which they ever did and ever will remain" (citedby Gay (1977, p. 130)). That these secrets might remain in obscurity had sometimes been denied.Isaac Beekman,whom Jacobidentifiesas "thefirstmechanical philosopher of the ScientificRevolution", was confident that"Godhadso
constructed the whole of nature that our understanding ... may thor-

oughly penetrateall the things on earth"(Jacob 1988, p. 52). Similar thesesarepropounded withthe sameconfidence today,notablyby people who describethemselvesas hard-headed scientificnaturalists and who typicallyrephrase Beekman's selecformula, replacing "God" by "natural tion"-with even less justification, becausethe deus ex machinais better definedin this case, so it is easy to see why the arguments fail. ThoughNewton's anti-materialism became scientificcommonsense, his qualmswere not really put to rest. One expressionof them was the belief thatnaturewas unknowable. Anothervariantheld thattheoretical be should an posits given only operationalist Lavoisier interpretation. believed that "the numberand natureof elements"is "an unsolvable problem, capable of an infinity of solutions none of which probably
accord with Nature .... It seems extremely probable we know nothing at all about ... [the] ... indivisible atoms of which matteris composed", and

never will (cited by Brock 1992, p. 129). Boltzmann described his molecular theoryof gases as nothingbut a convenientanalogy.Poincare held that we have no reasonto choose betweenethereal-mechanical or theoriesof light,andthatwe acceptthe molecular electromagnetic theory of gasesbecausewe arefamiliar withthe gameof billiards. Thechemist's atoms were considered "theoretical,metaphysicalentities", William Brock observes;interpreted operationally, they provideda "conceptual basis for assigning relative elementary weights and for assigning molecular andthese instrumental devices were distinguished formulae",

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from"a highlycontroversial physicalatomism,whichmadeclaimsconcerning theultimate mechanical nature of all substances". Unification was only achievedwith radicalchangesin physicalatomism:Bohr's model, quantum theory,andPauling'sdiscoveries.3 The unificationfinally overcamewhat had seemed an unbridgeable divide,pre-Planck: "Thechemist'smatter was discreteanddiscontinuous, the physicist'senergycontinuous", a "nebulousmathematical world of waves... "(Brock 1992,p. 489). energyandelectromagnetic In mid-19thcentury, the formulasanalysingcomplexmoleculeswere consideredto be "merelyclassificatorysymbols that summarizedthe observed course of a reaction"; the "ultimate nature of molecular was unsolvable", it was held, and"theactualarrangements groupings of atomswithin a molecule",if that even means anything,is "neverto be read"into the formulas.Kekule, whose structural chemistrypaved the way to eventual unification, doubted that "absoluteconstitutions of organic molecules could ever be given"; his models and analysis of valencywereto havean instrumental interpretation only.Untilthe 1870s, Kekule rejectedthe idea that the "rationalformulae... actuallyrepresented the real arrangements of a molecule's atoms".As late as 1886, Frenchschoolswere not permitted to teachatomictheorybecauseit was a "merehypothesis", the wellby decisionof the Ministerof Education, knownchemistBerthelot. as a conceptual Fortyyearslater,eminentscientistsridiculed absurdity the proposalof G.N. Lewis that"theatomicshells were mutuallyinterso thatanelectron"mayformpartof the shellof two different penetrable" atoms"-later "a cardinalprinciple of the new quantummechanics" to sayingthathusband (Brock1992,p. 476). It was "equivalent andwife, by having a total of two dollarsin a joint accountand each having six dollarsin individualbankaccounts,have got eight dollarsapiece",one objection ran;it was as if the electronswere"sittingaround on drygoods boxes at every corner,ready to shake handswith... electronsin other atoms", a distinguished Faradaylecturer commented with derision. America's first Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Theodore Richards, dismissedtalk aboutthe real natureof chemicalbonds as metaphysical This was nothingmore than"a very crudemethodof repre"twaddle". sentingcertainknownfacts aboutchemicalreactions.A mode of represent[ation]" only. The rejectionof that skepticismby Lewis and others pavedthe way to the eventualunification.
I Citedby Brock(1992, pp. 165, 171). For reference to Boltzmann andPoincare,see Chomsky unpublished PhDdis(1986),whichalso citesJohnHeilbron's sertation of California (University at Berkeley).


It is nothardto findcontemporary counterparts in the discussionof the mind-body problem,whateverthatis supposedto be. Thereis, I think,a good deal to learnfromthe historyof the sciences since they abandoned commonsensefoundations, alwayswith someuneasiness about just what they were doing.We shouldby now be able to acceptthatwe can do no morethanseek "besttheories", with no independent standard for evaluationapart fromcontribution to understanding, andhopeforunification but with no advancedoctrineabouthow, or whether,it can be achieved.As MichaelFriedman putsthe point,"thephilosophers of the moderntradition", from Descartes,"arenot best understoodas attempting to stand outside the new science so as to show, from some mysterious point outsideof scienceitself, thatourscientificknowledgesomehow'mirrors' an independentlyexisting reality.Rather,[they] startfrom the fact of modernscientificknowledgeas a fixedpoint,as it were.Theirproblem is not so muchto justifythisknowledgefromsome 'higher'standpoint as to articulate the new philosophicalconceptionsthatare forceduponus by the new science."In Kant'swords,mathematics andthe scienceof nature standin no needof philosophical for themselves,"butfor the sake inquiry of another science:metaphysics" (Friedman 1993). On this view, the natural sciences-whether the topic is the motionof the planets,the growthof an organism, or languageandmind-are "first The idea is by now a commonplace philosophy". with regardto physics; it is a rarephilosopher who would scoff at its weirdandcounterintuitive principlesas contrary to rightthinkingandtherefore But this untenable. is commonlyregarded standpoint as inapplicable to cognitivescience,linguistics in particular. Somewherebetween,thereis a boundary. Within thatboundary, scienceis self-justifying; the criticalanalystseeks to learn aboutthe criteria for rationality andjustification fromthe studyof scientific success.Beyondthatboundary, everything changes;the criticapplies criteria independent to sit in judgment overthe theoriesadvanced andthe entities they postulate.This seems to be nothing more than a kind of farmorepernicious thanthe traditional meta"methodological dualism", physicaldualism,whichwas a scientifichypothesis,naturalistic in spirit. this dualiststance,we pursueinquirywhereit leads. Abandoning Wealso shouldbe ablenow to adoptan attitude themind-body towards in the wake of Newton'sdemolitionof materialism problemformulated and the "mechanicalphilosophy":for example, by Joseph Priestley, whose conclusionwas "notthatall reducesto matter, but rather thatthe kindof matter on whichthe two-substance view is baseddoes not exist", and "with the alteredconcept of matter,the more traditionalways of of the nature of thought andof its relations posingthequestion to thebrain do notfit.Wehaveto thinkof a complexorganized biologicalsystemwith


properties thetraditional doctrine wouldhavecalledmentalandphysical" (Yolton1983,p. 114). In Priestley'swords,matter"is possessedof powersof attraction and repulsion" thatact at a "realand in generalan assignabledistancefrom whatwe call the body itself', properties thatare "absolutely essentialto [the]verynature" of matter. Wethusovercomethenaivebeliefthatbodies (atoms aside) have inherent solidity and impenetrability,dismissing basedon "vulgar and"vulgar arguments phraseology" apprehensions", as in the quest for the me referredto in the phrase"my body". With the Newtoniandiscoveries,matter"oughtto rise in our esteem,as makinga nearerapproachto the natureof spiritualand immaterialbeings", the "odium[of] solidity,inertness,or sluggishness"havingbeen removed. Matteris no more "incompatible with sensationand thought" thanwith attractionand repulsion."The powers of sensation or perceptionand areproperties thought" of "acertainorganized systemof matter"; properties "termed mental" are"theresult(whether necessaryor not)of suchan structure as thatof thebrain". It is as reasonable to believe "that organical thepowersof sensation arethenecessary andthought resultof a particular as thatsoundis the necessaryresultof a particular concusorganization, in humans"is a property sion of the air".Thought of the nervoussystem, of the brain".4 or rather Morecautiously, we may say thatin appropriate circumstances people think, not their brains, which do not, though their brains provide the I learned mechanisms of thought.I may do long divisionby a procedure in school,but my braindoesn'tdo long divisioneven if it carriesout the procedure. Similarly,I myself am not doing long divisionif I mechanithatareinterpreted as the veryalgorithm I use, cally carryoutinstructions responding to inputsin some code in a Searle-style"arithmetic room". likewisein the Nothingfollows aboutmy brain'sexecutingan algorithm; andunderstanding. case of translation underPeople in certainsituations standa language; my brainno moreunderstands Englishthanmy feet take a walk. It is a greatleap from commonsense intentional attributions to to partsof people or to otherobjects.That people, to such attributions move has been made far too easily, leading to extensive and it seems pointlessdebateover such alleged questionsas whethermachinescan think:for example,as to "how one might empiricallydefendthe claim thatthata given (strange)objectplays chess"(Haugeland 1979, p. 620), or determine whethersome artifact or algorithm can translate Chinese,or reachfor an object,or commitmurder, or believe thatit will rain.Many
4The quotations from Priestley in this paragraphcome from Passmore (1965), especially pp. 103ff. Similar conclusions had been drawn by La Mettrie a generation earlier, though on different grounds.

Language and Nature

of these debatestraceback to the classic paperby Alan Turingin which the Turingtest for machineintelligence,butthey fail to take he proposed think?' that"Theoriginalquestion,'Canmachines noteof his observation I believe to be too meaninglessto deservediscussion"(Turing1950, p. to of decisionas to whether 442). It is not a questionof fact,but a matter usage, as when we say (in English) that adopt a certainmetaphorical fly butcometsdo not-and as for spaceshuttles,choices differ. airplanes set sail but do not swim. Therecan be no sensible submarines Similarly, debateaboutsuch topics;or aboutmachineintelligence,with the many familiarvariants. 8th debate with 17th-1 It is perhapsworth comparingcontemporary by centurydiscussionof similartopics. Then,too, manywere intrigued anddebatedwhetherhumansmightsimplybe the capacitiesof artifacts, devices of greatercomplexityand differentdesign. But thatdebatewas naturalisticin character,having to do with propertiesapparentlynot subsumedunderthe mechanicalphilosophy.Focusingon languageuse, Descartes and his followers, notably Geraudde Cordemoy,outlined tests for "otherminds",holdingthatif some objectpasses experimental it expressesandinterI candeviseto testwhether thehardest experiments to doubtthatit has I it be "unreasonable" as do, would pretsnew thoughts science,on a parwith a litmustest for a mindlike mine.This is ordinary acidity. The project of machine simulationwas actively pursued,but understoodas a way to find out somethingaboutthe world. The great artificerJacquesde Vaucansondid not seek to fool his audience into to learn duckwas digestingfood, butrather believingthathis mechanical in of models,as is standard aboutliving thingsby construction something withthis debatecontrasts rather unfavourably the sciences.Contemporary tradition.5 hold with regardto the intentional terminology Similarconsiderations in theworld.Thuswe say that whathappens usedin describing commonly the asteroidis aimingtowardthe earth,the missile is rising towardthe the light,thebee is flyingto the flower, toward moon,the floweris turning is reachingfor the coconut,Johnis walkingto his desk. the chimpanzee Some futurenaturalistic theorymighthave somethingto say both about two quitedifferent normalusage,andaboutthe cases it seeks to address, topics. Neitherinquirywould be bound by "vulgarphraseology[and] just as we do not expectthe theoryof vision to deal with apprehensions", Clinton's vision of the internationalmarket,or expect the theory of languageto deal with the fact thatChineseis the languageof Beijingand
I See Marshall (1989); and Chomsky et al. (1993) for further comment; and for more extensive discussion, Chomsky (1966).



is notthe language andRio de HongKong,thoughRomance of Bucharest Janeiro-as a resultof suchfactorsas the stabilityof empires. It would be misleadingto say that we abandonthe theories that the is aimingtowards asteroid the earth, thatthe sunis settingandthe heavens thatthe wavehitthebeachandthenreceded, darkening, thatthe winddied andthe waves disappeared, thatpeople speakChinesebut not Romance, andso on, replacing themby betterones.Rather, the searchfortheoretical understanding pursuesits own paths,leading to a completelydifferent picture of the world,whichneithervindicatesnoreliminates ourordinary we can come to appreciate, ways of talkingandthinking.Theese modify and enrichin many ways, though science is rarelya guide in areas of humansignificance. Naturalistic inquiryis a particular humanenterprise thatseeks a specialkindof understanding, attainable for humansin some few domainswhen problemscan be simplifiedenough.Meanwhile,we live ourlives, facingas best we canproblems of radically different kinds, far too rich in character for us to hope to be able to discernexplanatory of any depth,if these even exist.6 principles The basic contention of Priestleyandother18thcenturyfiguresseems uncontroversial:thought and language are properties of organized matter-in this case, mostly the brain,not the kidney or the foot. It is unclearwhy the conclusionshouldbe resurrected centurieslater as an audacious and innovative proposal: "the bold assertion that mental phenomenaare entirely naturaland caused by the neurophysiological activities of the brain"(Paul Churchland1994), the hypothesis "that capacitiesof the humanmindare in fact capacitiesof the humanbrain" (PatriciaChurchland 1994); or that "consciousnessis a higher-levelor emergent property of the brain", "asmuchof the natural biologicalorder as ... photosynthesis, digestion,ormitosis"(Searle1992),norwhyNagel shoulddescribethis last as the "metaphysical heart" of a "radical thesis" that"wouldbe a majoraddition to the possibleanswersto the mind-body problem"if properlyclarified(as he considersunlikely:Nagel 1993). Everyyearortwo a book appears scientistwiththe by somedistinguished conclusion" or "astonishing in humans "startling thatthought hypothesis" "is a property of the nervoussystem,or rather of the brain", the "necessary result of a particular of matter,as Priestley put the organization" matter long ago, in termsthatseemclose to truism-and as uninformative as truisms tendto be, sincethe brainsciences,despiteimportant progress, are far from closing the gap to the problems posed by thought and language,or even to whatis moreor less understood aboutthesetopics.
6 For somewhatsimilarconclusionson different grounds,see Baker(1988) andChastain (1988).

Language and Nature


"Thevarianceof neural Here,we face typicalproblems of unification. maps is not discreteor two-valuedbut rathercontinuous,fine-grained, or andextensive", Edelman (1992) writes,concluding thatcomputational connectionist theoriesof themindmustbe wrongbecauseof theirdiscrete thanthe conclusion,a centuryago, character. Thatis no morereasonable thatchemistry mustbe wrongbecauseit could not be unifiedwith what we now knowto be a far-too-impoverished because physics;in particular, "the chemist's matterwas discrete and discontinuous,the physicist's energy continuous".7The disparity is real enough, but it is not, as Edelmansees it, a "crisis"for cognitive science; rathera unification problem, in whichthe chipsfall wherethey may. Thereis no problem in devisingsystemsthatmapcontinuof principle ous inputs into very specific discrete outputs; the "all-or-nothing" is given is an example.Another character of neuralinteraction illustration in a recentstudythatuses "athermodynamic modelto showthat computer in thepositionof a subtlefeature, a switchfromsix to four greatregularity in the inputsto the lateral layers, can resultfrom a slight discontinuity a "smallperturbation" that"markedly geniculateduringdevelopment", of... a largestructure", one of manysuch affect[s]theoverallorganization the empirical notes(Stryker examples,the author 1994,p. 263). Whatever status of particularproposals,the problemsof unificationof discrete (computationalor connectionist) and cellular theories have not been in kindfromothersthathave arisenthroughout the shownto be different courseof science. The currentsituationis thatwe have good and improvingtheoriesof some aspectsof languageandmind,butonly rudimentary ideasaboutthe relationof any of this to the brain.Considera concreteexample.Within computational theoriesof the languagefaculty of the brain,thereis by now a fairly good understanding of distinctionsamongkinds of "deviance"-departurefrom one or another generalprincipleof the language Recent work on electrical faculty. activityof the brainhas foundcorrelates to severalof these categoriesof deviance,and a distinctivekindof Still, electrophysiological responseto syntacticvs. semanticviolations.8 thefindings remainsomething of a curiosity, becausethereis no appropriate theoryof electricalactivityof the brain-no knownreason,thatis, theories, why one shouldfindtheseresults,not others.The computational in contrast, aremoresolidlybasedfromthepointof view of scientificnat7 See p. 6, above. For some comment on Edelman's misinterpretationof the computational theories to which he alludes, and of the nature of semantics, in which he expects to find a solution to the "crisis", see Chomsky et al. (1993). 8 See Neville et al. (1991), Hagoort et al. (1992), and Hagoort and Brown (1993).


Noam Chomsky

uralism; the analysisof deviance,in particular, falls withinanexplanatory matrixof considerable scope. A naturalistic approach to languageandmindwill seekto improveeach approach,hoping for more meaningful unification. It is common to supposethatthereis somethingdeeply problematic in the theorythatis moresolidlyestablished on naturalistic the "mental grounds, one";andto worryaboutproblems of "eliminationism" or "physicalism" thathaveyet to be formulated coherently. this dualisttendencynot only Furthermore, dominates discussionanddebate,but is virtuallypresupposed, a curious phenomenon of the historyof thoughtthatmeritscloserinvestigation. Putting aside such tendencies, how would a naturalistic inquiry proceed? Webegin with whatwe taketo be natural objects,for example Jones.Weareinitiallyinterested in particular aspectsof Jones,thelinguistic aspects.We findthatsome elementsof Jones'sbrainare dedicated to language-call them the language faculty. Otherpartsof the body may also have specificlanguage-related design,andelementsof the language facultymaybe involvedin otheraspectsof life, as we wouldexpectof any biologicalorgan.We set these matters to one side at first,keepingto the language facultyof thebrain,clearlyfundamental. Thereis goodevidence thatthe languagefacultyhas at least two different components: a "cognitive system"that stores information in some manner,and performance systems that make use of this information for articulation, perception, talkingaboutthe world, askingquestions,tellingjokes, and so on. The languagefacultyhas an inputreceptivesystemandan outputproduction system,but morethanthat:no one speaksonly Japanese andunderstands only Swahili. These performancesystems access a common body of information,which links them and providesthem with instructionsof somekind.Theperformance systemscanbe selectivelyimpaired, perhaps severelyso, while the cognitivesystemremainsintact,andfurther dissociations have been discovered,revealingthe kind of modularstructure expectedin any complexbiologicalsystem. Note that "modularity" here is not understoodin the sense of Jerry Fodor'sinteresting work,which keeps to inputand outputsystems.The cognitivesystemof the languagefacultyis accessedby suchsystems,but is distinct from them. It may well be true that "psychologicalmechanisms"are "composed of independent andautonomous facultieslike the perceptionof faces and of language"(Mehlerand Dupoux 1994), but these "mental organs" do not appear to fit withinthe framework of modularity,as more narrowly construed.Similarly,David Marr'sinfluential ideas aboutlevels of analysisdo not applyhere at all, contrary to much discussion,because he too is consideringinput-output systems;in this case, the mapping of retinalstimulations to some kindof internal image.

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Jones'slanguagefacultyhas an "initialstate",fixedby geneticendowment.It is generally assumed thattheperformance systemsarefully determinedby the initialstate thatany statechangesare internally directed or arethe resultof extraneous factorssuchas injury, not exposureto one or another This is the simplestassumption, language. andit is not known to be false, thoughit may well be; adoptingit, we attribute languagerelated differences in perception (say,ourinabilityto perceivedifferences of aspirationas a Hindi speakerwould) to differencesin the phonetic aspectsof the cognitivesystem,withouthavingmuchfaithin the assumption,thoughthereis someevidencefor it. (Underexperimental conditions Englishspeakers detectthe Hindicontrasts thattheydo not"hear" in a linguistic context.)The performance systems may well be specializedfor language.Even very young infants appearto have somethinglike the a specialrefinement adultphoneticsystemin place,perhaps of a broader vertebratecategory.Mehler and Dupoux (1994) propose the working that"newborns aresensitiveto all contrasts hypothesis thatcan appear in all naturallanguages, and in exactly the same way as adults", with "learning by forgetting" underearlyexposure,so thatbeforethe child is a yearold, the cognitivesystemhas selectedsome subpart of the available potential. On these simplifyingassumptions we look just at aboutdevelopment, the cognitivesystemof the languagefaculty,its initialstate,andits later states.Plainly,thereare statechangesthatreflectexperience: Englishis not Swahili, at least, not quite. A rational Martian scientist would findthe variation rather probably thatthereis one superficial, concluding humanlanguagewithminorvariants. But the cognitivesystemof Jones's language faculty is modified in response to linguistic experience, changingstate until it prettymuch stabilizes,perhapsas early as six to eight years old, which would mean that later (nonlexical)changesthat havebeen found,up to aboutpuberty, areinner-directed. Let us tentatively call a state of the cognitive system of Jones's languagefaculty a "language"-or to use a technical term, an "I-lan"I"to suggest"internal", sincethisis a strictlyinterguage", "individual", nalist, individualistapproachto language,analogousin this respectto studiesof the visual system.9If the cognitivesystemof Jones'slanguage facultyis in state L, we will say thatJones has the I-languageL. An I9 Note that this interpretationof such studies differs from some that appear in the philosophical literature.The term "I-language" was introduced to overcome misunderstanding engendered by the systematic ambiguity of the term "grammar", used both to refer to an I-language and to the linguist's theory of it. Thus Jones's knowledge of his I-language (grammar,in one sense) is nothing like some linguist's (partial) knowledge.

14 NoamChomsky

like "away of speaking", notionof language is something one traditional language. Despitesome similarity to standard locutions,however,the terminolas we expecteven in theearlieststagesof naturalistic ogy hereis different, inquiry.The languages of the world describe such mattersin various ways.In English,we say thatJonesknowshis language; otherssay thathe speaks it, or speaks with it, and so on, and terms for something like study.These languagevary,thoughI know of no seriouscross-cultural topics are of interestfor natural languagesemantics,andotherbranches of naturalisticinquirythat seek to determinehow cognitive systems, includinglanguage,yield what is sometimescalled "folk science".We apples speakof flowersturningtowardthe sun, the heavensdarkening, fallingto the ground,people havingbeliefs and speakinglanguages,and so on; our ways of thinkingand understanding, and our intuitiveideas abouthow the worldis constituted, mayor maynotrelatedirectlyto such locutions.Theelementsof folk sciencederivefromourbiologicalendowconditions.Thereis ment,takingparticular formsundervaryingcultural beliefs and plans to otherswell evidence that young childrenattribute beforetheyhavetermsto describe this, andthe samemaybe trueof adults generally, thoughmostlanguages,it is reported, do not havetermscorrespondingto the English "belief'. These are seriousinquiries,not to be undertaken casually;our intuitionsaboutthem providesome evidence, whatever but nothingmorethanthat.Furthermore, may be learnedabout folk science will have no relevanceto the pursuitof naturalistic inquiry into the topics that folk science addressesin its own way, a conclusion takento be a truismin the studyof whatis called"thephysicalworld" but consideredcontroversialor false (on dubious grounds,I think) in the studyof the mentalaspectsof the world. So farI havekeptto Jones,his brain,its languagefaculty,andsome of its components, all natural to Smith,we discoverthatthe objects.Turning initial state of his languagefaculty is virtuallyidentical;given Jones's he wouldhaveJones'slanguage. Thatseemsto be trueacross experience, the species, meaningthatthe initialstateis a species property, to a very If so, the humanlanguagefaculty and the (I-) good firstapproximation. languagesthataremanifestations of it qualifyas natural objects. If Joneshas the languageL, he knows manythings:for example,that house rhymeswithmouseandthatbrownhouseconsistsof two wordsin the formal relation of assonance, and is used to refer to a structure designed and used for certainpurposesand with a brownexterior.We would like to find out how Jones knows such things. It seems to work somethinglike this.

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and a lexicon. procedure The I-languageconsists of a computational (called The lexicon is a collectionof items,each a complexof properties The compustop"or "artifact". "bilabial "features"), suchas the property selectsitemsfromthelexiconandformsanexpression, tational procedure Thereis reasonto believe thatthe a morecomplexarray of suchfeatures. thereis some variation at the systemis virtually invariant; computational since andarticulation, not surprisingly, partsclosely relatedto perception language-a process it is herethatdataareavailable to the childacquiring in my opinion. That better describedas "growth"than as "learning", to residein the lexicon. One aspectis aside, languagevariationappears links between concepts and the arbitrary "Saussureanarbitrariness", whether the geneticprogram tree,theconcept, does notdetermine sounds: The linkageof concept or "Baum". is associatedwith the sounds"tree" hereis not on minimalevidence,so variation and soundcan be acquired surprising.But the possible sounds are narrowlyconstrained,and the fixed.It is hardto imagineotherwise, giventhe conceptsmaybe virtually rateof lexical acquisition-about a wordan hourfromages two to eight, with lexical items typically acquiredon a single exposure, in highly in delicateand extraordinary but understood ambiguouscircumstances, in the mostcomprecomplexitythatgoes vastlybeyondwhatis recorded hensive dictionary-which, like the most comprehensivetraditional grammar, merelygives hintsthat sufficefor people who basicallyknow the answers,largelyinnately. maybe limitedto formalaspectsof lanBeyondsuchfactors,variation guage-case of nouns,verbalinflection,and so on. Even here,variation may be slight. On the surface,English appearsto differ sharplyfrom in richnessof inflection; Chineseeven German, Latin,Greekor Sanskrit moreso. But thereis evidencethatthe languageshavebasicallythe same inflectional systems, differing only in the way formal elements are thatprovidesinstrucaccessedby the partof the computational procedure tions to articulatoryand perceptualorgans. The mental computation seems otherwise identical, yielding indirect effects of inflectional structure that are observable,even if the inflectionsthemselvesare not in large heardin speech.Thatmaywell be thebasisof languagevariation, measure.Small changesin the way a system functionsmay, of course, variety. to be greatphenomenal yield whatappears Thecomputational hasproperties thatmaybe uniqueto it, in procedure withno accessto manyof the propersubstantial part.It is also "austere", ties of other cognitive systems. For example, it seems to have no It registersadjacency; thus every other syllable could have "counters". some property (say, stress).But it cannotuse the notionthree.Thereare everythird no knownphonological systemsin whichsomethinghappens


Noam Chomsky

syllable,for example;and syntaxseems to observea property of "structure-dependence", unableto makeuse of linearand arithmetical properties thataremuchsimplerto implement outsidethe languagefaculty. Recent experimental work by Neil Smith and his colleagues (1993) bearson this matter. Theyhavebeen studyinga person-called "Christopher"-who seemsto haveanintactlanguage facultybutseverecognitive that of mentalarchitecture deficits,an exampleof the kindof modularity hasbeenfoundrepeatedly. Christopher hadmastered some 16 languages, andcantranslate fromthemto English.The experiments involvedChristopherand a control group. Both were taughtBerberand an invented systemdesignedto violateprinciplesof language. As expected,ChristopherlearnedBerbereasily, but lackingothercognitivecapacities,could do littlewiththe inventedsystem.The controlgroupmadesomeprogress it as a puzzle.But therewere on the inventedsystem,apparently treating some extremelysimplerulesthey did not discover:for example,the rule marker thatplacedan emphatic on the thirdwordof a sentence.It seems thatthe "austerity" of the languagefacultysufficedto bardiscoveryof a simplestructure-independent rule,withina linguisticcontext.Ouruse of and identify languageof course involves numbers;we can understand sonnets,for example.It also involves inference,thoughit seems thatthe is too austereto use these resourceseither.The computational procedure languagefacultyis bothveryrichandveryimpoverished, as anybiological system is expectedto be: capableof a high-levelof achievementin specificdomains,andcorrespondingly unableto deal with problems that lie outsidethem.As notedearlier,we shouldexpectthatto be trueof all our faculties, including what might be called the "science-forming the particular collectionof qualitiesandabilitieswe use in confaculty", ductingnaturalistic inquiry. Thoughhighly specialized,the languagefacultyis not tied to specific to whatwas assumednotlong ago. Thus,the sensorymodalities, contrary muchlike spokenlanguage,and sign languageof the deaf is structurally is verysimilar. thecourseof acquisition Large-scale sensorydeficitseems to have limited effect on languageacquisition.Blind childrenacquire languageas the sighteddo, even colourtermsandwordsfor visualexperiencelike "see"and "look".Thereare people who have achievedclose to normallinguisticcompetencewith no sensoryinputbeyondwhatcan be gainedby placingone's handon another The person'sface andthroat. mechanisms in much of thelanguage analytic facultyseemto be triggered the same ways whetherthe inputis auditory, visual, even tactual,and, seem to be localizedin the samebrainareas. These examplesof impoverished inputindicatethe richnessof innate is remarkable endowment-thoughnormallanguageacquisition enough,

Language and Nature


as even lexical access shows, not only because of its rapidityand the intricacy of result.Thus,very youngchildrencan determine the meaning of a nonsenseword from syntacticinformation in a sentencefar more complexthanany they can produce(Gleitman1990). A plausible assumptiontoday is that the principlesof language are fixed andinnate,andthatvariation is restricted in the manner indicated. Each language,then, is (virtually)determined by a choice of values for lexicalparameters: withone array of choices,we shouldbe ableto deduce Hungarian; with another, Yoruba. This principles-and-parameters approach offers a way to resolve a fundamental tensionthataroseat the very outset of generativegrammar. As soon as the first attemptswere madeto provideactualdescriptions of languages, 40 yearsago,it was discoveredthatthe intricacy of structure is farbeyondanything thathadbeen imagined, that traditionaldescriptions of form and meaning merely skimmed the surface,while structuralist ones werealmostirrelevant. Furthe apparent thermore, of languagesexplodesas soon as one variability attendsto facts thathadbeen tacitlyassignedto the unanalysed "intelligence of the reader". To attain "descriptive adequacy", it seemed to give veryintricate necessary accounts,specificto particular languages, indeedto particular in particular constructions languages: complexrules for relative clauses in English, for example. But it was obvious that nothingof the sortcould be true.The conditionsof languageacquisition makeit plainthatthe processmustbe largelyinner-directed, as in other aspectsof growth,whichmeansthatall languagesmustbe close to identical, largely fixed by initial state.The majorrecentresearcheffort has been guidedby this tension, pursuingthe naturalapproach: abstracting from the welter of descriptive complexity certain general principles thatwouldallowtherulesof a particular governing computation language to be given in very simpleforms,withrestricted variety. Effortsto resolve the tensionin this way led finallyto the principlesand-parameters approach just outlined.It is morea bold hypothesisthan a specifictheory,thoughpartsof the picturearebeing filled in, andnew theoreticalideas are leading to a vast expansionin relevantempirical materials fromtypologicallydiverselanguages. Theseideasconstitute a radicaldeparture froma richtradition of some 2500 years.If correct,they show not only thatlanguagesarecast to very muchthe samemould,witha nearinvariant and computational procedure lexical variation, but also thatthereare no rules or cononly restricted in anything structions like thetraditional sense,whichwas carried overto early generativegrammar: no rules for formationof relativeclauses in English,for example.Rather, the traditional constructions-verbphrase,

18 NoamChomsky

relativeclause, passive, etc.-are taxonomicartifacts,their properties resulting fromthe interaction of farmoregeneralprinciples. The principles-and-parameters approach dissociatestwo notionsthat fell togetherunderthe conceptof I-language: thereis a clearconceptual distinction betweenthe stateof the languagefaculty,on the one hand,and an instantiation of the initial state with parameters fixed, on the other. Apartfrommiracles,the objectsso identifiedwill always differempirically.The actualstateof one's languagefacultyis the resultof interaction of a greatmanyfactors,only some of which arerelevantto inquiryinto the nature of language. Onmoretheory-internal grounds, then,we takean I-language to be an instantiation of the initialstate,idealizingfromactual states of the languagefaculty.As elsewherein naturalistic inquiry,the term"idealization" is somewhat it is the procedure misleading: we follow in attempting to discoverreality,the realprinciples of nature. Onlyin the study of mental aspects of the world is this considered illegitimate, another dualismthatshouldbe overcome. exampleof pernicious Progressalong these lines has openedup new questions,notably,the question to what extent the principles themselves can be reduced to deeperand natural of computation. properties To what extent,thatis, is language "perfect", relying on naturaloptimalityconditions and very simplerelations? One theoryholds that,apartfromthe phoneticfeatures thatareaccessedby articulatory-perceptual systems,the properties of an expressionthat enterinto languageuse are completelydrawnfrom the lexicon:thecomputation thesein veryrestricted organizes ways,butadds no further features. That is a considerable simplification of earlier which would,if correct,requireconsiderable assumptions, of rethinking the "interface" between the languagefaculty and other systems of the mind.Anotherrecenttheory,proposedin essence by RichardKayne,is thatthereis no parametric variation in temporal order.Rather, orderis a reflexof structural determined in thecourseof computation: properties all languagesare of the basic form subject-verb-object. Otherrecentwork seeks to show thatpossibleexpressions thatwouldbe interpretable at the interface,if formed,are barred by the fact thatothercomputations with the samelexical resources aremoreeconomical.10 On such assumptions, we expect that languages are "learnable", becausethereis littleto learn,butarein part"unusable", one reasonbeing that global economyconditionsmay yield high levels of computational complexity. That languages are "learnable"would be a surprising empiricaldiscovery;thereis no generalbiological or otherreasonwhy languagesmadeavailableby the languagefacultyshouldbe fully accessible, as theywill be if languagesarefixedby the settingof simpleparam10 On these

matters, see Chomsky (1993b, 1994); and sources cited therein.

LanguageandNature 19

eters.The conclusionthatlanguagesare partiallyunusable,however,is systems not at all surprising. It has long been known thatperformance that that an that differs from they provide analysis often "fail",meaning determined Manycategoriesof by the cognitivesystem(the I-language). havebeen studiedthatpose structural problemsfor interpreexpressions tation: multiple-embedding,so-called "gardenpath sentences", and others.Even simpleconceptsmay pose hardproblemsof interpretation; or negation,for example.Suchexpressions wordsthatinvolvequantifiers I expectedto see you (meaning as "Imissed(not)seeingyou last summer" but didn't) cause endless confusion. Sometimes confusion is even codified, as in the idiom "nearmiss", which means "nearlya hit", not a miss"(analogous to "near accident"). "nearly is "easyandquick", in one familiar and Thebelief thatparsing formula, this fact, is erronethatthe theoryof languagedesignmustaccommodate ous; it is not a fact. The problem,however,is to show thatthose partsof determined by the theoriesof comlanguagethatareusableareproperly andperformance, no smallmatter. putation These of current inquiry. Questionsof this sortbringus to the borders are questionsof a new orderof depth,hence of interest,in the studyof languageandmind. how do the perOtherquestionshave to do with interfaceproperties: formancesystemsmakeuse of expressionsgenerated by the I-language? Some featuresof these expressionsprovideinstructions only to articulatory andperceptual systems;thus one elementof a linguisticexpression are is its phoneticform. It is generallyassumedthat these instructions andperception, whichis not at all obvious, commonto both articulation hence interesting if true. Other propertiesof the expression provide systems;this elementof the instructions only for conceptual-intentional expressionis usually called logicalform, but in a technical sense that differsfromotherusages;call it LF to avoidmisunderstanding. Again,it is assumedthatthereis only one such arrayof instructions, andthatit is dissociated from phonetic form. These assumptions are even more henceif true,very interesting discoveries. implausible, On such assumptions, the computational procedure maps an arrayof lexicalchoicesintoa pairof symbolicobjects,phoneticformandLF,and froma certain does so in a waythatis optimal, pointof view.Theelements of these symbolic objects can be called "phonetic"and "semantic" but we shouldbearin mindthatall of this is pure features,respectively, and syntax,completelyinternalist,the study of mentalrepresentations muchlike the inquiry intohow the imageof a cuberotating computations, in space is determined from retinalstimulations, or imagined.We may takethe semanticfeaturesS of an expression E to be its meaningandthe



like the sense P to be its sound;E meansS in something phoneticfeatures of the corresponding Englishword,andE soundsP in a similarsense, S andP providing the relevantinformation for the performance systems. is accessedby perAn expressionsuchas "Ipaintedmy housebrown" formancesystemsthatinterpret it, on the receptiveside, andarticulate it while typicallyusing it for one or anotherspeech act, on the productive side. How is that done? The articulatory-perceptual aspects have been intensivelystudied,but these mattersare still poorly understood. At the the problems areeven moreobscure,and conceptual-intentional interface may well fall beyondhumannaturalistic inquiryin crucialrespects. Perhaps the weakestplausibleassumption aboutthe LF interface is that the semantic propertiesof the expression focus attentionon selected aspectsof the world as it is takento be by othercognitivesystems,and andhighlyspecializedperspectives provideintricate fromwhichto view them, crucially involving human interests and concerns even in the the semantic simplestcases. In the case of "I paintedmy house brown", an in terms of featuresimpose analysis specific propertiesof intended If I design and use, a designated exterior,andindeedfar moreintricacy. but I can paintmy house paintmy house brown,it has a brownexterior, brownon the inside. The exterior-interior dimensionhas a markedand the exterioris understood. That unmarked option;if neitheris indicated, is a typicalproperty I of the lexicon;if I say Jonesclimbedthe mountain, I meanthathe was (generally) goingup,but can say thathe climbeddown the mountain,using the markedoption. If I am inside my house, I can clean it, affectingonly the interior, but I cannotsee it, unless an exterior surfaceis visible (through AndI certainly a window,forexample). cannot be near my house if I am inside it, even though it is a surface, in the unmarked case. Similarly,a geometrical cube is just a surface,but if we areusingnatural language,a pointinsidethe cubecannotbe nearit. These hold quite generally:of boxes, igloos, airplanes,mountains, properties a tunnelin a mountain andso on. If I look through andsee a lightedcave within,I do not see the mountain; only if I see its exteriorsurface(say, frominside the cave, lookingthroughthe tunnelat a mirror outsidethat reflectsthe surface).The same is trueof impossibleobjects.If I tell you thatI painteda spherical cubebrown,you takeits exterior to be brownin the unmarked case, andif I am inside it, you know I am not nearit. And so on, to intricacy that has been far underestimated,and that poses problems of "poverty of stimulus" so extremethatknowledgeof language in these regardstoo can only be assumedto be in substantial measure hence innatelydetermined, virtuallyuniformamonglanguages,muchas we assume without discussion or understanding for other aspects of growthanddevelopment.

Language and Nature


Quite typically, words offer conflictingperspectives.A city is both Los Angeles may be concreteand abstract, both animateand inanimate: or ponderingits fate grimly,fearingdestruction by anotherearthquake a it is is at a Rather, place, administrative decision. London not place. thoughit is notthe thingsat thatplace,whichcouldbe radicallychanged andrebuilt, or moved,leavingLondonintact.Londoncouldbe destroyed perhapsaftermillennia,still being London;Carthagecould be rebuilt today, just as TomJones,thoughperfectlyconcrete,couldbe reincarnated as an insector turned by a witch into a frog, awaitingthe princess'skiss, but TomJones all along-concepts availableto young childrenwithout instruction or relevantexperience. The abstractcharacterof London is crucial to its individuation.If is reduced elsewhere London to dust,it-that is, London-can be re-built and be the same city, London. If my house is reducedto dust, it (my house) can be rebuiltelsewhere,but it won't be the same house. If the motorof my car is reducedto dust, it cannotbe rebuilt,thoughif only involve dependency of reference, partially damaged,it be can. Pronouns and dependence butnotnecessarily to the samething;andbothreferential in a intricate highly space the narrower notionof samenessinvolve roles of human interests and concerns. Judgmentscan be ratherdelicate, involvingfactorsthathavebarelybeen explored. Thereare plentyof realexamplesillustrating suchproperties of terms a reportin the of natural language.We have no problemunderstanding to dailypressaboutthe unfortunate townof Chelsea,whichis "preparing move" (viewed as animate),with some residentsopposedbecause "by that movingthe town,it will takethe spiritoutof it",while otherscounter "unless Chelsea moves, floods will eventuallykill it". There is a city called both "Jerusalem"and "al-Quds", much as London is called and"Londres". Whatis this city?Its site is a matter of no small "London" contention,even of UN SecurityCouncilresolutions.The government thatclaims it as its capitalcity has been consideringplans to move alin place.Thechairman of the development Quds,whileleavingJerusalem that"Weneedto finda capitalforthe Palestinians, we authority explained northeast The haveto finda site for al-Quds"--somewhere of Jerusalem. proposalis perfectlyintelligible,which is why it greatlytroublespeople concernedaboutal-Quds.The discussionwould pose puzzles of a kind familiar in the philosophical even moreso if the proposal were literature, good advice, implemented-if, failingto observesome of Wittgenstein's we were to supposethat words like "London" refer to or "Jerusalem" thingsin the worldin some publiclanguage,and were to try to sharpen of meaningsand ideas for conditionsunderwhich the presuppositions normaluse do not hold.


Noam Chomsky

Even the status of (nameable)thing, perhapsthe most elementary conceptwe have, dependscruciallyon such intricatemattersas acts of humanwill, again somethingunderstoodwithoutrelevantexperience, of the languagefacultyand others.A determined by intrinsicproperties thing-say, collectionof sticks in the groundcould be a (discontinuous) a workof art.But the same sticksin the ground a picketfence, a barrier, I arenot a thingif left thereby a forestfire." The matterof space-time continuityhas no particularrelevance to to whatis sometimesassumed(see Putnam1993). these issues, contrary Discontinuity of thingsis not at all in question;the UnitedStatesis discontinuousin space, though it has become a nameablething (shifting peror theatrical over time from pluralto singularusage);an utterance formancemay be discontinuousin time. As just noted, discontinuous objects are readily understood as nameable things, within a proper matrixof humaninterests.Whethera city is understoodwithin "folk science" as a (possibly) discontinuous four-dimensionalobject is a question of fact. The assumption that it is, or that semantic theory of such should say that it is, requiresquite unnaturalinterpretations terms as "move (Chelsea)","the former(Chelsea)",etc., issues easily overlooked, given a narrow concentrationon object-reference. The andperspectives involvedin individuating cities, houses, and properties the like remain to be discovered and explained, independentof the questionof continuity. Substancesreveal the same kinds of special mentaldesign. Takethe in the sense proposedby HilaryPutnam:as coextensive term "water", with "H20give or takecertainimpurities" (Putnam1993, alludingto his invocationof natural 1975). Even in such a usage, with its questionable science, we find that whethersomething is water depends on special humaninterests andconcerns,againin ways understood withoutrelevant the term"impurities" covers some difficultterrain. Suppose experience; if It is but a tea is the a of is filled from dipped water, bag tap. cup cup, It is a tea, the case. now of cup somethingdifferinto it, thatis no longer in whichtea to a reservoir is filledfroma tapconnected ent. Supposecup2 is water, Whatis in cup2 hasbeen dumped (say,as a new kindof purifier). it fromthepresent contents nottea,even if a chemistcouldnotdistinguish The cupscontainthe samethingfromone pointof view, different of cup1. but in eithercase cup2containsonly waterandcup, thingsfromanother; in Putnam's sense, in cup, it is only tea. In cup2,the tea is an "impurity" milkis mostly all in the sense that have water at not,andwe do not (except If CUp3containspureH20 intowhicha water,or a personfor thatmatter).
I On such matters, and their significance for Quinean and similar theories of " learning, see Chomsky (1975a, p. 203).

Language and Nature


tea bag has been dipped, it is tea, not water, though it could have a higher concentrationof H20 molecules than what comes from the tap or is drawn from a river. Note that this is a particularlysimple case, unlike its classic counterparts"earth","air","fire",among many others. Proceeding beyond the simplest cases, intricacies mount. I can paint the door to the kitchen brown, so it is plainly concrete; but I can walk through the door to the kitchen, switching figure and ground. The baby can finish the bottle and then break it, switching contents and container with fixed intended reference. There is interesting work by James Pustejovsky studying regularities in such systems, drawing on ideas of Julius Moravcsik (1975, 1990), Aristotelian in origin.12 As we move on to words with more complex relational properties and the structuresin which they appear,we find that interpretationis guided in fine detail by the cognitive system in ways that we expect to vary little because they are so remote from possible experience. Neurologist Rodolfo Llina's (1987) puts the matter well when he describes perception as "a dream modulated by sensory input", the mind being a "computational state of the brain generated by the interaction between the external world and an internal set of reference frames". But the internal frames that shape the dreams are far more intricate and intriguing than often assumed, even at the level of the lexicon, still more so when we turn to expressions formed by the computational procedures. Spelling out the properties of expressions, we learn more about the instructionsat the LF ("semantic")interface, which are interpretedin some mannerto think and talk about the world, along with much else. Important and obscure questions still lie beyond: in what respects, for example, do these properties belong to the language faculty as distinct from other faculties of mind to which it is linked? How do lexical resources relate to belief systems, for example? Such questions remain within the domain of what people know, not what they do. Answers to them would still leave us far short of understandinghow the resources of the cognitive systems are put to use. From this welter of issues it is hardto see how to extricate very much that might be subjected to naturalistic inquiry.13 Note that the properties of such words as "house", "door", "London", "water", and so on do not indicate that people have contradictory or otherwise perplexing beliefs. There is no temptationto draw any such conclusion, if we drop the empirical assumption that words pick out things, apartfrom particularusages, which they constrainin highly intricateways.
12 See also Pustejovsky (1993b), and other papers in Pustejovsky (1993a); and also Chomsky (1975a). I3 For some comment, see Chomsky (1993a).



More pickoutthings,intrinsically? Shouldwe assumethatexpressions relations assumptions" aboutthe interface generally, shouldthe "weakest to include andactionbe supplemented andtheway theyenterintothought thathold betweencertainexpressionsandexternalthings?That relations is commonlyassumed,thoughwe have to take care to distinguishtwo variants:(1) things in the world, or (2) things in some kind of mental thenthe study andthe like.14If the latter, representation, model,discourse andcontinueto is againinternalist, a formof syntax.Supposethe former, phoneticformandLF. assumethattherearetwo interfacelevels,to an elementa of phonetic Supposewe postulatethatcorresponding
form there is an external object *a that a selects as its phonetic value; thus

picksoutsomeentity*[ba],"shared" theelement[ba]inJones'sI-language in hisI-language. could Communication withSmithif thereis a counterpart in termsof such(partially) entities,whichareeasy shared thenbe described
enough to construct: take *a to be the singleton set {a}, or {3, a}; or if

basedon motionsof molone wantsa morerealisticfeel, some construct ecules. Withsufficient heroism,one coulddefendsuch a view, thoughno one does, becauseit's clearthatwe arejust spinningwheels. Supposethata is constructed The samecanbe doneattheLF interface. from one or more lexical choices, wherea system by the computational fromit is an LF representation syntacticobjectcomputed or some further (an expressionin some formal language, some kind of mental model,
etc.). We could then posit an object *a as its semantic value, external to

the I-language,perhapssharedby Jones and Smith.Again, *a could be or construction to whichwe assignthe desiredproperties, some arbitrary given a touch of realismin a varietyof ways. We could then construct truththeories, and develop an account of communicationin terms of sharedentities-often of a very strangesort,to be sure.As in the case of new entitiesandprinciples, what proposalthatintroduces anytheoretical has to be shown is thatthis one is justifiedin the usual empiricalterms (explanatory power,etc.). with A good partof contemporary of languageis concerned philosophy analysing alleged relations between expressions and things, often "true "refer", exploringintuitionsaboutthe technicalnotions"denote", of', etc., said to holdbetweenexpressionsandsomethingelse. But there can be no intuitionsaboutthese notions,just as therecan be none about These aretechnicaltermsof philosophivelocity"or "protein". "angular in ordinary cal discoursewith a stipulated sense thathas no counterpart language-which is why Fregehad to providea new technicalmeaning
14 Iput aside, here and below, the further assumption that these relations hold of objects in a public language. This notion is unknown to empirical inquiry, and raises what seem to be irresolvable problems, so far unaddressed.For some recent discussion, see Chomsky (1993a) and Chomsky et al. (1993).

LanguageandNature 25

for "Bedeutung", for example.If we re-run the thoughtexperiments with ordinaryterms,judgments seem to collapse, or rather,to become so interest-relative as to yield no meaningful results. Without the matter pursuing here,it is not at all clearthatthe theoryof natural languageandits use involvesrelationsof "denotation", "true of', etc., in anything like the sense of the technicaltheoryof meaning. It is sometimes claimed that such technical notions are requiredto accountfor communication or for consideration of truthandfalsity.The former belief is groundless.The latter also seems incorrect. Simply considerthe ordinary languagetermswith-whichthis discussionbegan: "language" and "mind".Considertwo statementsaboutlanguageand mind: (1) Chineseis the languageof BeijingandHongKong,butnot Melbourne. (2) The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heavenof Hell, a Hell of Heaven. The firstis true,but"Chinese" surelyhas no realworlddenotatum, in the technicalsense, norneed one believe thatit does to assigntruthvalue.If we are convincedby Milton's argument, we will agree that the second sentenceis true,but withoutcommitting ourselvesto the belief thatany of the subject,the pronoun,or the reflexive(or the othernoun phrases) refereitherto somethingin the natural worldor in some obscuremental world.At least, thereis no compulsionto succumbto such temptations, for reasonsput forthin the 18thcenturycritiqueof the theoryof ideas, muchenrichedin modernordinary languagephilosophy. Suchproperties aretypicalof the wordsof natural language. This is not to denythatsuch statements can be madewith referential intentions, but these are of a far moreintricate nature. In any event,thereseems to be no specialconnectionbetweenattribution of truthor falsity and some notion of referenceor denotation,in like the sense of technicaldiscourse. anything Consider in contrast anotherterm I have used: I-language, which figuresin such statements as: (3) I-language has a headparameter. Thisstatement is false if Kayne'stheoryis correct, perhaps trueif it is not. In this case, it makes sense to say thatthe term"I-language" has a real worlddenotatum, or at least is intendedto. The statement belongsto the same kind of discourse as statementsabout H20, acids and bases, the of proteins specification by genes, etc. The sentencesdo notreallybelong to natural language;they containtechnicalterms,such as "I-language", introducedin a quite different way. As the disciplines progress,they

26 NoamChomsky

depart still further fromthe commonsense andordinary languageorigins

of inquiry.

It is reasonable to supposethatin thecourseof suchinquiry, we attempt to constructsystems in which well-constructedsymbolic objects are intended to pick out objectsin the world:molecules,I-languages, andso on. These symbolicsystemsmay be called "languages", butthatis just a metaphor. They typicallydo not have properties of natural language,are acquired andused in a completelydifferent fashion,andarenot instantiations of the initial state of the language faculty. We may articulate symbolicobjectsof these systemswiththe phoneticsof ourlanguageand borrowconstructionsof our languagein using them, even when they containtermsthat are inventedor based on languageswe do not know "homosapiens"), butall of thatis irrelevant. ("eigenvector", The systems in may depart arbitrary ways from naturallanguage, using calculus, anddiagrams, or whatever. chemicalnotations These symbolic systems may well aim towardsto the Fregeanideal. thereis a "common,publiclanguage" Accordingto this approach, with formulasor signals that express sharedthoughts.The "language" has a syntax, namely, a class of well-formed formulas; there is no "right answer" to the questionof how thatset is generated. It also has a semantics, based on the technical notion of Bedeutung,a relation between symbolsandthings.Perhaps one property of the science-forming faculty of the humanmindis thatit aimsto construct Fregeansystems.But if so, thatwill tell us nothingaboutnatural language.Herethereis no counterpartto the notion"common" or "public" language. The syntaxis radically different. Therea real answerto the questionof whatis the "right generative procedure"; I-languagesare functionsregardedin intension.And thereappears to be no notionof "well-formed formula" in the sense used, for example,by Quinein his discussionsof extensionalequivalenceand indeterminacy of translation, or by manylinguists,psychologists, philosophers,and otherswho have been concernedaboutgenerativecapacity, decidabilityof well-formedness,reductionto context-freegrammars, excess strength of certaintheories,and otherproblemsthatcannoteven be formulatedfor naturallanguage, as far as we know (Cf. Chomsky 1980, 1986). As for semantics, insofaras we understand languageuse, the argument for a reference-basedsemantics (apartfrom an internalist syntactic version)seems to me weak. It is possiblethatnatural languagehas only syntaxandpragmatics; it has a "semantics" only in the senseof "thestudy of how this instrument,whose formal structureand potentialities of expression arethe subjectof syntacticinvestigation, is actuallyputto use in a speechcommunity", to quotethe earliestformulation in generative

LanguageandNature 27

grammar 40 years ago, influencedby Wittgenstein,Austin and others (Chomsky(1975b, Preface), and Chomsky(1957, pp. 102-3). In this andperformview, natural languageconsistsof internalist computations and ance systems that access them along with much otherinformation outtheirinstructions in particular belief,carrying waysto enableus to talk and communicate,among other things. There will be no provisionfor factaboutlanguage,... that whatScottSoamescalls "thecentralsemantic it is usedto represent the world", becauseit is not assumedthatlanguage is used to represent the world,in the intendedsense (Soames 1989, cited by Smith1992 as the core issue for philosophers of language). Before turningto more detailedissues relatingto the internalist perspective on language,let me mentionsome limits. Some have already been suggested: general issues of intentionality, including those of languageuse, cannotreasonablybe assumedto fall within naturalistic inquiry.The mattercan be furtherclarifiedby returningto Cartesian in particular, the dualism,the scientifichypothesis thatsoughtto capture, lies fact that the bounds of normal use apparent language beyond any possible machine. The Cartesianframeworkwas underminedby the discoverythat even the behaviorof inorganicmatterlies beyondthese bounds.But the argumentscan be reconstructed, though now without metaphysical implications,since the conceptof matterhas disappeared. So restated,they still seem to pose a complete mystery.They are, for example, unaffectedby the transitionfrom the complex artifactsthat intrigued the Cartesians to today'scomputers, andthe brainsciencesshed little light on them. areunreal.Possiblythey are Possibly,as somebelieve, theseproblems realbutwe havenothituponthe way to approach them.Possiblythatway, whateverit is, lies outsideour cognitivecapacities,beyondthe reachof the science-forming faculty.Thatshouldnot surprise us, if true,at leastif we are willing to entertainthe idea thathumansare partof the natural world, with rich scope and corresponding limits, facing problemsthat they might hope to solve and mysteries that lie beyond their reach, as "ultimatesecrets of nature"that "ever will remain"in "obscurity" Humesupposed,echoingsome of Descartes's own speculations.

2. Language from an internalistperspective

I want to distinguish an internalist from a naturalistic approach. By the latterI meanjust the attempt to studyhumansas we do anythingelse in the natural naturalistic world,as discussedin ?1. Internalist inquiryseeks the internalstatesof an organism.Naturalistic to understand studyis of


Noam Chomsky

inquiryinto a planetor an coursenot limitedto such bounds;internalist antdoes not pre-empt or precludethe studyof the solarsystemor an ant Non-internalist studiesof humanscan take many forms:as community. phases in an oxygen-to-carbon dioxide cycle or gene transmission,as farmersor gourmets,as participants in associationsand communities, with theirpowerstructures, doctrinal systems,culturalpractices,and so studiesare commonlypresupposed in otherswith broader on. Internalist kind range,butit shouldbe obviousthatthe legitimacyof one or another does not arise. of inquiry I am keepinghereto the questfor theoretical underTo clarifyfurther, standing,the specific kind of inquiry that seeks to account for some andexplanaspectsof the worldon the basisof usuallyhiddenstructures inquirycan consistatoryprinciples.Someonecommitted to naturalistic interest abouthow peoplethink entlybelievethatwe learnmoreof human novelsthanfromall of natandfeel andactby studying historyor reading uralistic inquiry.Outside of narrowdomains, naturalisticinquiryhas for reasons provenshallowor hopeless,andperhaps alwayswill, perhaps havingto do with ourcognitivenature. The aspectsof the worldthatconcernme hereI will call its mentaland of "chemlinguisticaspects,usingthe termsinnocuously-in the manner ical", "electrical",or "optical"-to select a complex of phenomena, events,processesandso on thatseem havea certainunityandcoherence. I meanthementalaspectsof the world.In noneof thesecases By "mind", is thereany needfor antecedent clarity,norany reasonto believe thatthe categories will survive naturalisticinquiry where it can make some progress. I mean"methodological naturalism", counterposed to By "naturalism" the doctrinethat in the quest for theoretical dualism": "methodological other understanding, languageandmindareto be studiedin somemanner As thanthe ways we investigatenatural objects,as a matterof principle. discussed in ?1, this is a doctrine that few may espouse, but that muchpractice.See also Chomsky1992, 1993a,forthcoming. dominates One branchof naturalistic inquirystudiescommonsense understandobjectconstancy, ing. Here we are concernedwith how people interpret the natureand causes of motion, thoughtand action, and so on ("folk science", in one of the senses of the term). Perhapsthe right way to describethis is in termsof beliefs aboutthe constituents of the world(call andorigins.Assume andtheirorganization, them"entities") interaction, andif so how,the conceptual resources so. It is an openquestionwhether, of folk sciencerelateto thoseinvolvedin the reflectiveandself-conscious foundin everyknownculture("earlyscience"),andto the particinquiry

LanguageandNature 29

we call "natural science".For convenience,let's referto ularenterprise as "ethnoscience". the studyof all suchmatters It is also an openquestionhow the conceptual resources thatenterinto these cognitive systems relate to the semantic (including lexical) beliefsif theyspeak resources of the language faculty.Do peopleattribute languagesthat have no such term, the great majority,it appears?Can
someone lacking the terms recognize savoir faire, Schadenfreude,

machismo, or whatever is expressed by the countless locutions that If I say thatone of the thingsthatconcernsme is challengetranslators? the averageman andhis foibles, or Joe Sixpack'spriorities, or the inner has on the latestmissilecontract, trackthatRaytheon does it follow thatI believethatthe actualworld,or somementalmodelof mine,is constituted and of such entitiesas the averageman,foibles, Joe Sixpack,priorities, inner tracks?When the press reportsthat a comet is aiming towards Jupiterand that lobsterfishermenare overfishingNew Englandwaters, thinkthatcometshave intendoes thatmeanthatthe writersandreaders tions andlobstersarefish? These arequestionsof fact aboutthe architecture of the mind,impropno doubt,becauseso little is understood. erly formulated If intuitionis any guide,thereseems to be a considerable gap between the semantic resources of language literally interpretedand thoughts expressedusing them. I am happyto speak of the sun setting over the and waves hittingthe shore, horizon,comets aimingdirectlyat Jupiter, as the winddies. But I'm not awareof having receding,anddisappearing beliefs thatcorrespond terminolliterallyto the animisticandintentional I aboutrelativity ogy I freelyuse, orthatconflictwithanything understand andthe motionsof molecules.Nordoes the world,ormy mentaluniverse, seemto me to be populated like whatI describeas thingsthat by anything concern me. Psychologists and anthropologistsexploring languagethoughtrelations(e.g., the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)find such problems hardandchallenging; readyanswersare offeredin muchof the contembut on groundsthatseem to me less than porary philosophical literature,

In fact, radicallydifferentanswersareoffered.Takelanguage.Donald Davidson(1990) writesthat"we all talkso freely aboutlanguage,or languages,thatwe tendto forgetthatthereare no suchthingsin the world; thereare only people and theirvariouswrittenand acousticalproducts.
This point, obvious in itself, is nevertheless easy to forget ... ". To most

philosophers of language,it is equallyobviousthatthereare suchthings in the world as languages:indeed, "common,public languages"-Chinese, German, etc.-of which, some hold, we have "a partial, and partially erroneous, grasp" (Dummett 1986). Hilary Putnam(1989,


Noam Chomsky

1993), amongmanyothers,takesthe allegedfact to be as obviousas its denialis to Davidson,alongwithequallyobviousfactsaboutthe thingsin the worldthatcorrespond to noun phrasesratherfreely, so it seems, so that the world contains whateverwe might refer to as somethingthat interests or bothersus, includingthe allegeddenotata of wordswe do not

A third position is that conclusions about such matters are rarely obvious:answershaveto be foundcase by case, andthe questions require more carefulformulation in the firstplace. The ethnoscientistseeks to determine whatpeopletaketo be constituents of the world,howeverthey maytalkaboutit. A different seeksthebesttheoryof language inquiry and its use, andthe states,processes,andstructures thatenterinto it. Thequestions arisein the simplestcases:nameable objects,substances, artifacts, actions,andso on. I takethe thingin frontof me to be a desk, butcouldbe convincedthatit is a hardbed for a dwarfthatI ammisusing as a desk;that'sa matterof designer'sintentand regularuse. Fromone point of view, I take it to be the same thing whateverthe answer,from another pointof view, a different into suchchoices thing.Factors entering arediverseandcomplex.I takethe contentsof the cup on the desk to be tea, but if informedthatit came fromthe tap afterpassingthrougha tea I concludethatit is reallywater,not tea.Again,it is filterat the reservoir, the same thingfor me in eithercase from one pointof view, a different thingfromanother. Some sticksI pass on the roadare not a thingat all, it is unless explained to me thattheywerespecifically as some constructed kind of object,whetherby people or, perhaps, beavers.Whatis a thing, and if so whatthing it is, dependson specific configurations of human interests,intentions, goals andactions,an observation as old as Aristotle. It couldbe thatin suchcases I do notchangemy beliefs aboutthe constituents of the worldas identification changes-that in my own variantof "folkscience",the entitiesthatholdup my computer andfill the cup, and thatI pass on the road,remainas they were independent of the explanations, which place them in unexpectedrelationsto designs, intentions, uses, andpurposes. As the study of the language faculty and other cognitive systems we maycometo understand progresses, in whatrespectsmy picture of the worldis framedin termsof thingsselectedandindividuated by properties of my lexicon, or even involves entitiesand relationships describable at
15ThatPutnam andDavidsondifferis notentirelyclear,sincePutnam does not indicatewhathe meansby "language" while Davidsonspells out a notionmodelled on formallanguagethatis surelynot Putnam's, thoughDavidson'sconclusion would seem to exclude whateveris intended.Internalist linguisticswould also be excludedunlesswe understand "people" to includetheirfaculties,states, etc.

Language and Nature


do all by the resources of the languagefaculty.Some semanticproperties seemspecifically linkedto language, developingas partof it, closely integratedwith its otheraspects,even represented in natural ways withinits morphological and syntacticstructures. Termsof languagemay indicate thecomplexperspectives positionsin belief systems,whichenrichfurther thoselacking they affordfor viewingthe world.Some terms,particularly internal relational structure, may do littlemorethanthat;notably"natural kind terms",though the phraseis misleading,since they have little if anythingto do with the kinds of nature.Akeel Bilgramiobserves that analysisof lexical resourcesin termsof "alinguisticagent'sperspective on things",resisting dubious notions of independentreference,leads naturallyto linking the study of meaningto "suchthings as beliefs as the thingsin the worldwithwhichwe standin causalrelations" mediating and to the "radically local or contextual" notion of content that he whichbifurcates "theentirecurrent developsin rejecting way of thinking These seem to me fruitfuldirectionsto contentinto wide and narrow".
pursue.' 6

The studyof semanticresourcesof the languagefacultyis not ethnoscience,andbothenterprises, of course,areto be distinguished fromnaturalisticinquiryinto the rangeof topics that naturallanguageand folk in theirown ways.The observation is a truismin the case scienceaddress of falling apples, plants turningtowardthe light, and rockets aiming theheavens; hereno one expectsordinary orfolk science toward language of the world, to enter into attemptsto gain theoreticalunderstanding it is considered a serious beyondtheirintuitivestarting points.In contrast, whether "mentalistic to determine talkandmentalentities[will] problem eventuallylose their place in our attemptsto describeand explain the world" talkandentitieswill lose (Burge1992).Thebelief thatmentalistic theirplaceis "eliminationism" whichBurge or "eliminative materialism", identifies as a major strandof the effort "to make philosophy scienthesis. tific"-perhaps wrong,but an important If we replace"mental" is unclear. in Whyit is important by "physical" the thesis it loses its interest:"physicalistictalk and physical entities" havelong ago "losttheirplacein ourattempts to describeandexplainthe world",if by "physicalistic"and "physical"we mean the notions of common discourse or folk science, and by "attemptsto describe and explainthe world"we meannaturalistic inquiry. Why shouldwe expect anythingdifferentof "mentalistictalk and mental entities"?Why, for example, should we assume that psychology "seeks to refine, deepen, of informedcommon generalizeand systematizesome of the statements
i Bilgrami, comments in Chomsky (9993); et al. kind terms, see Bromberger (1992).

Bilgrami (1992). On natural



sense aboutpeople'smentalactivity"(Burge 1988),17 thoughchemistry, geology, and biology have no comparableconcerns. No one expects talkaboutthingshappening ordinary in the "physical world"to have any particular relationto naturalistic theories;the termsbelong to different intellectualuniverses. These facts are not taken to pose a body-body problem, norhasanyoneproposed a thesisof "anomalism of thephysical" to deal with them.The same should,then,be trueof such statements as "JohnspeaksChinese"or "Johntook his umbrella becausehe expected rain"-though one may hope, in all cases, thatsciencemightyield some understanding andinsightin the domainsopenedto inquiryby common senseperspectives. Thereseems no basis here for any mind-body problemand no reason to questionDavidson'sthesis thatthereare no psychophysical laws that connectmentalandphysicaleventsin anappropriate explanatory scheme; for similarreasons,thereare no physico-physical laws relatingordinary talk about things to the naturalsciences, even if the particular events described fall within their potential descriptive range. Distinctions betweenmentaland otheraspectsof the world,in these respects,seem unwarranted, except in one respect: our theoreticalunderstanding of language,mind, and people generallyis so shallow,apartfrom limited domains,that we can only use our intuitive resourcesin thinkingand talkingaboutthesematters. It is not thatordinary discoursefails to talkaboutthe world,or thatthe it describes particulars do notexist, or thatthe accountsaretoo imprecise. Rather,the categoriesused and principlesinvoked need not have even loose counterparts in naturalistic inquiry. Thatis trueeven of the partsof discoursethathave a quasi-naturalistic ordinary cast. How peopledecide whethersomethingis wateror tea is of no concernto chemistry. It is no necessarytask of biochemistry to decide at what point in the transition from simple gases to bacteriawe findthe "essenceof life", and if some suchcategorization were imposed,the correspondence to commonsense notionswould matterno more thanfor the heavens,or energy,or solid. Whether ordinary usagewouldconsiderviruses"alive" is of no interest to biologists,who will categorizeas they choose in termsof genes andconditionsunderwhich they function.We cannotinvoke ordinary usage to judge whetherFranqois Jacobis correctin telling us that"forthe biologist, the living begins only with what was able to constitutea genetic program", though"forthe chemist,in contrast, it is somewhat to arbitrary make a demarcation wheretherecan only be continuity" (Jacob,1973). Similarly, the concept "humanbeing", with its curious propertiesof
17Burge is describing what he takes to be "psychology as it is", but the context indicates that more is intended. On the assumption, see below p. 53f.

Languageand Nature 33

psychic continuity,does not enter the naturalsciences. The theory of JohnSmithand evolutionandotherpartsof biology do tryto understand being"or "human not,however,underthe description his placein nature; languageand thought.These notions as construedin ordinary "person" but not languagesemanticsand ethnoscience, for natural are interesting the natureof of humanbiology that seek to understand for the branches themfromapesand or whatdistinguishes JohnSmithandhis conspecifics 18 plants. The special sciences too go theirown ways. To borrowJerryFodor's rivererodingits banks,theearthsciencesdo not exampleof a meandering people take it to be the same riverif the care underwhatcircumstances is on a differentcourse, or when they or it redirected is reversed flow with fromthe sea as an islandor a mountain projecting something regard a waterybase.The sameshouldbe expectedin thecase of suchnotionsas language and belief, and terms of related semantic fields in various settings. languagesandcultural sciencesarecommonlyrecognizedto be largely natural The particular andconveniences,whichwe do not expectto carvenatureat its artifacts is uncontroversial for the "hard sciences",buthas joints.The observation been stronglychallengedin the case of language.Therehas been much heateddebateover what the subjectmatterof linguistics really is, and is made to bearon it. A distinction whatcategoriesof dataare permitted
between linguistic evidence that is appropriatefor linguistics, versus psy-

chologicalandotherevidencethatis not. Suchdiscussions,whichcan be An inquiry. foundin all the relevant disciplines,areforeignto naturalistic does not come with a notice "I am for K', written empiricalobservation No one asks on its sleeve, whereX is chemistry, linguistics,or whatever. orbiology, the studyof a complexmoleculebelongsto chemistry whether and no one should ask whetherthe study of linguisticexpressionsand theirproperties belongsto linguistics,psychology,or the brainsciences. we in advancewhat kinds of evidence might bear on know can Nor research Thussome current suggeststhatstudiesof electhesequestions. tricalactivityof the brainmay provideevidencebearingon them,a conceptualimpossibilityaccordingto a considerablepartof the literature, for example,thatstudiesof whichalso putsforthotherodd contentions: of clicks might provideevidence aboutphrase displacement perceptual in Japanese,which boundaries,whereas observationsabout anaphora grounds,do not constitute providefar strongerevidence on naturalistic evidencefor factualtheses at all becauseof some lethalformof indeterminacy(Quine 1992). Or thatwe shouldkeep to-or even be interested ir'Grandma's view"aboutthe domainof linguistics,thoughpresumaI8

to theseexamples. view with regard (1993) for a contrary See Putnam


Noam Chomsky

bly not chemistry (DevittandSterelny1989). Orthatstudiesof processand so on, cannot ing, acquisition, pathology, injury,genetic variability, in principle be used as evidence about the existence and status of elementsof linguistic representation (Scott Soames), contraryto what practisinglinguistshave long believed;e.g., EdwardSapirand Roman in classic work,or recentstudiesof primingeffects in processJakobson ing and their implicationsconcerningunarticulated elements.All such moves reflectsome formof dualism,an insistencethatwe mustnot treat the domainof the mental,or at least the linguistic,as we do otheraspects of the world. Methodologicaldualism has sometimes apparentlybeen explicitly fall shortof Dummett's thesisthatscientificaccounts advocated. Consider philosophicalexplanation for conceptualreasons.To take his example, suppose that a naturalisticapproachto languagesucceeds beyond our wildest dreams.Supposeit providesa preciseaccountof what happens into a whensoundwaves hit the earandareprocessed,is fully integrated scientifictheoryof action,andsolves the unification problem, integrating the theoriesof cells andcomputational processes.We wouldthenhave a a language: successfultheoryof whatJonesknowswhenhe has acquired whathe knows aboutrhyme,entailment, usage appropriate to situations, andso on. But no matterhow successful,Dummettwrites,these discoverieswould"contribute whichrequires an answer nothingto philosophy", to a different question:not how knowledgeis storedor used,but "howit is delivered". Thenaturalistic accountwouldbe a "psychological hypothbecause it does not tell us esis", but not a "philosophical explanation", "the form in which [the body of knowledge] is delivered"(Dummett, that 1993,p. xi; 1991p. 97). Forthe sciences,the accounttells everything canbe askedaboutthe formin whichknowledgeis delivered, butphilosin naturalistic unknown ophycalls for a kindof explanation inquiry. So understood, to excludemuchof the core of traphilosophyappears ditionalphilosophy:Hume,for example,who was concernedwith "the andsoughtto find"thesecretspringsandprinscienceof humannature", in its operations", ciples,by whichthe humanmindis actuated including thatarederived"bythe originalhandof those"parts of [our]knowledge" nature",an enterprisehe comparedto Newton's. Had Hume achieved these goals, he would have established"psychologicalhypotheses",in Dummett's terms,butwouldnot yet havecontributed anything to philosophy. "Philosophical explanation"requires something more than a of the mindandhow they discoveryof the "secretspringsandprinciples" function. If I understand Dummett, philosophical explanation cruciallyinvolves access to consciousness. M exactlylike Imaginethen a Martian creature

LanguageandNature 35

us except thatM can become awareof how its mind is "actuated in its operations". When we ask M whether it is following the rules of phonologyin constructing rhymes,or Condition (B) of BindingTheoryin referential M determining dependence, reflects and says (truly),"Yes, that'sjust whatI'm doing"-by assumption, exactly whatyou andI are doing. For M, we would have a "philosophical we would explanation"; the form in which the knowledge is delivered, and could understand properlyattribute knowledgeto M. But we would not have crossedthe bridgeto "philosophical explanation" and attribution of knowledgefor the human who operates exactlyas M does, thoughwithoutawareness. As Quine,JohnSearle,andothersputit, we wouldbe allowedto say thatM is following rules and is guidedby them, whereasthe humancannotbe describedin these terms. To avoid immediatecounterintuitive consequences,Searleinsists furtheron a notion of "accessin principle" that remainsentirelyobscure(see Chomskyforthcoming). Aretheseproposals substantive The latter, or merelyterminological? it seemsto me; I do not see whatsubstantive issue arises.It mightbe added thatthe proposals deviatefromordinary that radically usage,forwhatever may be worth. In informal usage, we say that my granddaughter is verbswhen followingthe rulesfor regular pasttenseandcertainirregular she says "I ridedmy bike andbrangit home",thoughthese rulesarenot accessibleto consciousness,for childrenor adults,any morethanthose thatQuine,Searle,andothersdisqualify. SaulKripke's "Wittgensteinian" conceptof rule-followingin termsof communitynormsis virtuallythe complementof ordinaryusage, which typically attributesrule-guided behaviorin cases of deviationfrom such norms,as in the examplejust given. In contrast,only a linguistwould be likely to say thatmy granddaughteris following the rules of Binding Theory,conformingto the community (in fact, the humancommunity, very likely). In the studyof otheraspectsof the world,we are satisfiedwith "best and thereis no privilegedcategoryof evidencethat theory"arguments, In the study of language providescriteriafor theoreticalconstructions. andmind,naturalistic theorydoes not suffice:we mustseek "philosophical explanations", delimit inquiryin terms of some imposed criterion, requirethat theoreticalposits be groundedin categories of evidence selectedby the philosopher, andrely on notionssuchas "accessin principle"thathave no placein naturalistic inquiry. Whatever all this means,thereis a demandbeyondnaturalism, a form of dualismthatremainsto be explainedandjustified. Philosophicaldemandsare sometimesmotivatedby the problemsof errorand first-person authority. Defendinga positionmuchlike the one advanced here,BarrySmith(1992, pp. 134-39)concludesthatit still falls

36 NoamChomsky

it fails to for suchreasons; satisfyingaccount" shortof "aphilosophically with i.e., in accordance "tellus whatcountsas using... wordscorrectly, of use", and to accountfor our authoritative patterns certainnormative knowledgeof syntaxandmeaningin ourown language.So "philosophical work... is vital to complete the overall project",work that goes linguistics). (includinginternalist psychology" beyond"scientific These conclusions seem to me unwarranted.Consider a typical example. Supposethat Peter,a normalspeakerof English, says "John expectsto like him".I concludethathe intendsto referto two different him.If Peter people:John,and someoneelse pickedout by the pronoun in thecontext"Guesswho-", so thathe said embedsthe sameexpression "Guesswho Johnexpectsto like him",I do not know whetheror not he intendedto referonly to John.In "Johnexpectsto like him",him is not on John;in "Guesswho Johnexpectsto like him", referentially dependent of suchfactsin termsof the questionis open.Thereis a good explanation linguistictheory,call it T. an internalist M andof us. M can tell us thathe SupposeT to be trueof the Martian drawsthese conclusionson the basis of T, which he can recognizeand I cannot,thoughI operateexactlyas M does. Given M's even articulate; consciousaccess to the rulesit follows, some areinclinedto feel thatwe aboutthe facts authoritative" have an accountof M's being "effortlessly account"makesa informallydescribed;but the internalistnaturalistic in Peter'scase. of this first-person authority puzzle"or a "totalmystery" (1989) asks,how canPeter"underM'sconsciousaccess,Wright Lacking say the ones in question,aboutwhichhe expressions", stand... particular is "effortlessly authoritative". thatcan Thekindof account differently. Supposethatwe putthe matter of firstperson be offeredtoday,includingT, does not "makea mystery" authority, thoughit does leave a mystery,aboutboth M and Peter.For both,we have an accountthatmeetsthe conditionsof the sciences(questions of precisionand accuracyaside), but we lack any insightinto the natureof consciousness, somethingnot relevantto the matterof rulein its own right. thoughinteresting authority, followingandfirst-person Peterfollows the rulesof T becausethatis the way he is constructed, just as he sees the settingof the sun and the waves dashingagainstthe is exhausted by this fact.As for whatwe authority rocks;his first-person from some thereare manypossiblekinds.Petermay depart call "error", or to mean"uninterested", externalstandard-say, using "disinterested" violate the in a lecture. choose to He his native dialect formal may using to meantablein a code-knowing usingthe word"chair" rules,perhaps that in his own languageit means chair. In doing so, he makes use of an facultiesof mind beyondthe languagefaculty.He may misinterpret

Language and Nature


expression, in that his performancesystem yields an interpretation differentfrom the one his internallanguage imposes; there are wellknown categories of such cases, which have been fruitfully studied. otherpossibilities,we seem to findno relevantlimitsto through Running psychology. internalist Othersuse differenttermsfor what seem to be the same points.Thus theoryof language,its use ThomasNagel arguesthat a full naturalistic but and acquisition,would not describea "psychologicalmechanism" is rise subit to of giving incapable "simplya physicalmechanism-for jective conscious thoughtwhose contentconsists of those rules themselves".The crucialdistinction,again,lies in access to consciousnessin terbutwith different The pointseems the sameas Dummett's, principle. Herethe problem replacing"philosophical". minology:"psychological" of thought" is com"accessin principle" and "content of understanding had which the the mechanism", of notion"physical by obscurity pounded physics,but not since (see Nagel 1993). somemeaningin pre-Newtonian or "physical", or "material" Unlessofferedsome new notionof "body" naturalism. frommethodological apart we have no conceptof naturalism nat"metaphysical doctrine: usagerefersto a different Moreconventional which Burge in his historicalreview describesas "one of the uralism", few orthodoxies in American philosophy" in recent years; in other of physicalism,eliminativism,"thenaturalization variantsmaterialism, areintelligibleonly insofaras the andso on. Thesedoctrines philosophy", domainof the physicalis somehowspecified. the doctrinein this One leadingadvocate,Daniel Dennett,formulates whichhe describes as "oneof the of philosophy", way:the "naturalization happiesttrendsin philosophysince the 1960s",holdsthat"philosophical accountsof ourminds,ourknowledge,andourlanguagemustin the end sciences".In a diswith, the natural be continuouswith, or harmonious cussion of contemporarynaturalism,T.R. Baldwin (1993) cites this Like other naturalism". statement the thesis of "metaphysical to illustrate accounts" Whatare"philosophical it poses some problems. formulations, in this "naturalized" sense of philosoas distinctfromothers,particularly phy?And what are the naturalsciences? Surelynot what is understood with tomorrow's andharmonious" today,whichmay not be "continuous physics. Some Peirceanideal, perhaps?That doesn't seem promising. Whatthe humanmindcan attainin the limit?Thatat least is a potential topic of inquiry,but it leaves us in even worse shape in the present is understood as a hopefor eventual naturalism" context.If "metaphysical unification of the studyof the mentalwith otherpartsof science, no one not"ahappytrendin phibutit is a thesisof littleinterest, coulddisagree, losophy".


Noam Chomsky

Takethe version of this doctrineexpressedby Quine, whom Burge orthodoxy. In his mostrecent identifies as the sourceof the contemporary formulation,the "naturalisticthesis" is that "the world is as natural science says it is, insofaras naturalscience is right".Whatis "natural andthe like".What science"? of quarks Quine'stotalansweris: "theories countsas like enough?There are hints at answersbut they seem comat leastby ordinary naturalistic criteria (see Quine1992, pletelyarbitrary, andChomsky forthcoming). problem (orperhaps its core)as the Supposewe identifythemind-body If problemof explaininghow consciousnessrelatesto neuralstructures. so, it seems much like others that have arisen throughthe history of science,sometimeswith no solution:the problemof explainingterrestial and planetarymotion in terms of the "mechanical philosophy"and its contact mechanics, demonstratedto be irresolvableby Newton, and overcome by introducing what were understoodto be "immaterial" to mechanics, forces;the problemof reducingelectricityandmagnetism thatfields are assumption unsolvableandovercomeby the even stranger real physicalthings;the problemof reducingchemistryto the worldof hard particles in motion, energy, and electromagnetic waves, only of even weirderhypothesesabout the overcomewith the introduction natureof the physical world. In each of these cases, unificationwas butby quitedifferent achievedandthe problem resolvednotby reduction, Even the reduction of biology to biochemistry formsof accommodation. is a bit of an illusion,since it came only a few yearsafterthe unification anda radicallynew physics. of chemistry in one Theseexamplesdo differfromthe consciousness-brain problem of theirreintelligibletheories important way:it was possibleto construct duciblephenomenathat were far from superficial,while in the case of we do not seem to progress muchbeyonddescription and consciousness, illustration of phenomena(Freudians, Jungians,and othersmight disaThenormal is seen moresharply in thecase of language. gree).Thematter use of languageinvolves a "creativeaspect"which, for the Cartesians, the best evidencefor the existenceof otherminds.Neitherthe provided of the languagefacultynorthe creativeaspects computational properties of use can be relatedin interesting ways to anythingknownaboutcells, thereare butthe two topicsdifferin thatfor the computational properties, theories,while for the creativeaspects of use, intelligibleexplanatory andillustration. If so, the crucialissue is notreal thereis only description or apparentirreducibility,a common phenomenonin the history of at such aspects science,butthe fact thatwe can only starein puzzlement of mindas consciousnessandexpressionof thoughtthatis coherentand

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a characteristic feature of coreproblems of phiappropriate butuncaused, losophy,as ColinMcGinn(1993) has argued. Furthermore, apart fromthefactthatliteralreduction is hardly thenorm as science has proceededtowardsunification, thereis uncertainty as to whether it even makessense as a project.SilvanSchweber(1993) writes that recent work in condensed matter physics, which has created phenomena such as superconductivity thatare "genuinenoveltiesin the universe",has also raised earlier skepticism about the possibility of reduction to "analmostrigorously provedassertion", leadingto a concepthe validityof the conlaws"in a new sense. Whatever tionof "emergent havenothingto say doctrines clusion,it is at leastclearthatphilosophical aboutit; even less so in the domainof mindandbrain,wherevastlyless is understood. A naturalistic approach simplyfollows thepost-Newtonian course,recaccountof ognizingthatwe can do no morethanseek the best theoretical wherever the questleads. the phenomena of experienceandexperiment, As in otherbranchesof science, we expect to leave the concepts of behind.Takea concreteexample,the case commonsense understanding studied by Jeni Yamada(1990). Laura's of a woman called "Laura" areapparently languagecapacities intact,buthercognitiveandpragmatic is limited.She has a largevocabulary thatshe uses in approcompetence priateways, though apparentlywithout much understanding. Yamada suggests the analogy of young children who use colour words in the theirreferenbut withoutgrasping proper places"todressup discourse", herself tial properties. Laura knows when she shoulddescribe andothers as sador happy, butapparently to feel sador happy; she's without capacity a kind of behaviourist. Does she knowor understand or speakEnglish? Thequestionis meaningless. Usualassumptions aboutpeopledo nothold in Laura'scase; the presuppositions of ordinary usage are not satisfied. Naturalistictheories of languageand mind may provideconcepts that butthesedepart fromordinary Theseconcepts, applyto Laura, language. are partof an intemalisttheoryof languageand mind, the incidentally, content" only kindwe have.Wecannotask,for example,aboutthe "broad of Laura's speechunlessthe technicalnotionis extendedto this case. Takea somewhat different case:my four-year-old granddaughter. Does she speakEnglish?Whatwe say in ordinary discourseis that she has a attainif events partial knowledgeof the languagethatshe will ultimately follow theexpectedcourse,thoughwhatshe now speaksis nota language herage weremiraculously at all. But if all adultswereto die, andchildren to survive,whatthey speakwouldbe perfectlynormalhumanlanguages, onesnotfoundtoday.Thisteleologicalaspectof thecommonsensenotion of language is amongthe manycuriousandcomplexfeaturesthatrender



the conceptinappropriate for the attempt to understand languageandits use,just as biologydoes not concernitself with the psychiccontinuity of persons andthe earthsciencesdo notcarewhatpeoplecall the sameriver, or a mountain or anisland.Thesearetruisms in the case of "thephysical"; likewisefor "themental", dualisticassumptions aside. The same holds of attribution of belief. It is a reasonableprojectof natural science to determine whether people (in particular,young children) whathappensin the worldin termsof suchnotionsas interpret belief and desire, falling from the heavens towardthe earth, turning the light,andso on; andthe conditions toward underwhichtheyuse such intentional and objectual discourse in various languages (perhapsa different as noted).Quiteindependently, we may ask whetherthe matter, theoryof people,meteors,andflowersshouldinvolve such notions.The current answeris "definitely not"in the case of flowersandmeteors,and unknown in the case of people,becausewe do not know muchat all. Let us considera thirdkind of problem,which does not fall within either framework: the problemof determining when we shouldattribute belief, or risingandturning andaimingtoward-when we arejustifiedin doing so?Toquoteone recentformulation, we askwhatare"thephilosophically necessary of being a truebeliever". condition[s] Access to consciousness is usuallyinvokedat this point,andQuinean indeterminacy is commonly held to arisefor belief, thoughnot the othercases, for which no "philosophicaldemand" is raisedat all (ClarkandKarmiloff-Smith 1993). No one seeks to clarifythe philosophically necessaryconditionsfor a comet to be trulyaimingat the earth-failing to hit it, if we arelucky (another intentional attribution). Similarly, we are invitedto explorethe criteria for determining where to drawthe line betweencomets aimingat the earthandJones walking towardhis desk; on which side shouldwe place barnaclesattachingto shells andbugs flying towardthe light? Suchquestionsdo not belongto ethnoscienceor the study of the lexicon, nor to naturalistic inquiryin otherparts of the sciences.Again,it seemsthatthequestis for"philosophical explanations", whatever they may be. The samequestionsariseaboutdebatesover manifestation of "intelligence"and "language use".In the case of vision, locomotion,andother systems one might seek homologies or evolutionaryconnections.But mentalproperties are not approached in such ways. Somethingdifferent is at stake in the debates about whethermachines think, or translate Chinese,or play chess. We ask whetheran imaginedMartianor a programmed computer couldunderstand Chinese,but not whetheran extraterrestrialcreature or a camera could see, like humans. There is a substantial literature on whethera personmechanically carryingout an

LanguageandNature 41

with codedinputsandoutputscan properly be saidto be transalgorithm latingEnglishto Chinese,butnoneon the analogousquestionsthatcould be raised aboutmimickingthe computationsand algorithmsthat map retinalstimulation to visualimageor reachingfor an object.It is takento be a crucialtaskfor the theory of meaning to construct notionsthatwould applyto anycreature howeverconstituted, realor imagined; butthisis not a taskat all for the theoryof vision or locomotion.Curiously, this is also not considered a task for the theoryof phonology,thoughthe questions have as much merit here-none, I think. Similarly,no one asks what would count as a circulatorysystem, or a molecule, in some world of different objectsor different laws of nature. The discussionsare not only dualisticin essence, but also, it seems, withoutany clearpurposeor point:on a parwith debatesaboutwhether the space shuttleflies or submarines set sail, but do not swim; questions of decision,not fact, in these cases, thoughassumedto be substantive in the case of the mind,on assumptions thathave yet to be explained-and that, incidentally,ignore an explicit warningby Turing(1950) in the classic paperthatinspiredmuchof the vigorousdebateof the pastyears. When we turnto language,the internalism-externalism issues arise; thoughagain only for the theoryof meaning,not for phonology,where they could be posed in the same ways. Thus we are asked to consider whethermeaningsare "in the head",or are externallydetermined. The conventional answertodayis thatthey areexternallydetermined by two kindsof factors:featuresof the realworld,andnormsof communities. Whatnotionof meaningis beinginvestigated? Rational reconstruction is a goal sometimessuggested, of actualtranslation butproposals practice are not seriously evaluatedin these terms and the significanceof the is also unclear. project Anotherstatedgoal is to determine the meaningof a word(butapparently, not the soundof a word)in a "shared publiclan19 in some coherent terms. guage",a notionthatremainsto be formulated Plainly, the goal is not to discover the semantic featuresof the word in Englishor similarexpressions, if theycanbe found,in other "meaning" of languages.Does the inquirybelong to ethnoscience,an investigation our conceptual The inquiriesthatare conducteddo not seem resources? for this purpose. The questionsalso do not have to do with well-designed naturalistic inquiryinto the natureof languageand its use, which will developin its own ways. Whatotherpossibilityis there?The answeris not clear. In fact,somecuriousmovestakeplaceat thispoint.Consider theTwinEarth thought experiment designed by Hilary Putnam, which has providedmuch of the motivationfor externalistassumptions.In one
'hese motives lie behind Putnam (1975), as he reiterates in Putnam (1993).



version,we areto exploreourintuitions aboutthe extensionor reference of the word"water" on Twin-Earth, wherespeakers identicalto us use it to referto XYZ,whichis notH20.But we canhaveno intuitions aboutthe
question, because the terms extension, reference, true of, denote, and

othersrelated to themaretechnicalinnovations, whichmeanexactlywhat theirinventors tell us they mean:it wouldmakeas little sense to explore ourintuitions abouttensorsor undecidability, in the technicalsense. Suppose we pose the thoughtexperimentusing ordinarylanguage. Suppose, for example,thatTwin-Oscar comesto earth,is thirsty, andasks for that, pointingeitherto a glass of Spriteor-of what comes from the faucet-some oddmixtureof H20,chlorine,andI hateto thinkwhatelse, differing significantlyfrom place to place (but called "water").Is he makinga mistakein both cases? In one case? Which one? Supposehe refers to stuff from the faucet that passed through a tea filter at the reservoir (and therefore is water for Oscar), and to the chemically identicalsubstance thathada tea bag dippedinto it (so it is not waterfor buttea). In whichcase (if either)is Twin-Oscar Oscar, mistaken? Turning to "content of belief', if Twin-Oscar continues to askforwhatcomesfrom the faucet to quench his thirst, calling it "water",has he changedhis beliefs about water-irrationally, since he has no evidence for such a change?Or is he behavingrationally, keepinghis originalbeliefs about water,whichallow for the stuffon Earth to be water(in Twin-English) in the firstplace?If the latter,thenbeliefs aboutwaterare sharedon Earth andTwin-Earth, just as on eitherplanet,beliefs may differaboutthe very same substance,taken to be either wateror tea as circumstances vary, even with full and precise knowledge that the objects of the different beliefs have exactlythe sameconstitution. I have my intuitions, which would be relevant to the study of the lexiconandethnoscience, but whichundermine the intended conclusions of the thoughtexperiment. Therearenumerous otherproblems. TheTwin-Earth problemis posed the presuppositions by withdrawing of discourseon whichnormalusage rests. It is akin to asking whetherLauraunderstands English. Furthermore,if the argument to then why not to "earth", applies "water", "air", and"fire", whichhada comparable statusin one earlytradition? Whatis "samesubstance" in these cases? Or consider"the heavens".I use the term with an indexical character, to refer to what I see on a cloudless in BostonandTasmania. different night:something Withordinary presupas on Twin-Earth, I mightdecide (in some circumpositionswithdrawn, the same way. The dimensionsof choice are so stances)to use "water" variedthatit is notsurprising that"mostearsnotpreviously contaminated by philosophicaltheory"provide no clear judgmentsin the standard

LanguageandNature 43

cases, as Stich (1993) has observed. That would not be a decisive objection in a richertheoreticalcontext, but it is a warningsign that shouldnot be ignoredwhenwe have little beyondallegedexamples. Putnam's response to such problems seems to me unconvincing (Putnam1993). He agrees that Words do not refer, so intuitionsabout referenceof words have to be reformulated in some differentway. He adoptsthe Peircean positionthat"reference [in the sense of 'trueof'] is a triadicrelation(personX refersto object Yby sign S)", wherethe Ysare "realobjectsin the world". Furthermore, "That thereis a relation between ourwordsandthingsin the worldis fundamental to ourexistence;thought withouta relationto thingsin the worldis empty."20 Thus a wordrefers to (is trueof) a realobjectin the worldwhenpeopleuse the wordto refer. Since people use the word"Chinese" to referto the languagespokenin BeijingandHongKong,thatis "arealobjectin the world", andthe same shouldapparently holdof "themind","theaverageman","JoeSixpack", "freetrade", "theheavens", etc., as well as of adjectives, verbs,andother relational expressions. Such super-Whorfian conclusionsaside, severalproblemsarise.First, this the externalist accepting formulation, arguments collapse,including 1 theTwin-Earth thecase of "thedivisionof linguisticlabor",2 experiment, and others. When Twin-Oscar, visiting Earth,asks for a cup of water, referring to what is in the cup as "water", then we conclude,following Putnam'srevision, that water in Twin-Englishis true of H20, so that meanings are back in the head. The other argumentsfail for similar reasons. Second,the revisionis not helpful,since the Peirceanthesis involves an inventedtechnicalnotionof reference, so we arebackwherewe were, with intuitions thatwe cannothave.In ordinary usage,"reference" is not a triadicrelationof the Peirceansort. Rather,personX refers to Yby E under circumstances is atleasttetradic; expression C, so therelation and Yneed not be a realobjectin the worldor regarded thatway by X. More generally, personX uses expressionE with its intrinsicsemanticproperties to talk aboutthe worldfrom certainintricate perspectives, focusing attentionon particularaspects of it, undercircumstancesC, with the of content" "locality theyinduce(in Bilgrami's sense).Indeedthe componentsof E may have no intrinsicsemanticrelationat all to whatJonesis
20 Iomit a footnotein whichPutnam qualifies his claim.I believethathis statementaboutemptinessof thoughtseems muchtoo strong,butputthataside. 21 A questionable term,since Putnam seems to have dropped the implicitrequirement thatthe "experts" to whomwe defereven speakourlanguage; the social aspect therefore disappears, and we are back to "same substance" considerations.

44 NoamChomsky

referring to, as whenhe says the performance at Jordan Hallwas remarkto Bostonandhis favourite able,referring stringquartet. Putnam writesthathe thinks"Chomsky knowsperfectlywell thatthere is a relationbetweenspeakers, words,andthingsin the world".So there sometimesis, abstracting fromcircumstances of use, in moreor less the sense in whicha relationholds of people,hands,androcks,in thatI can use my handto pick up a rock.But thatleaves us a long way fromestablishinganything remotelylike the conclusionsPutnam wantsto reach. Fromthe naturallanguageand common-senseconceptsof reference andthe like, we can extractno relevant"relation betweenourwordsand Andwhenwe beginto fill outthepicture thingsin the world". to approach actualusage and thought,the externalistconclusionsare not sustained, exceptthatin the welterof uses, some will havethe desiredproperties; in special circumstances, we may indeedunderstand water in the sense of "sameliquid",where "liquid" and "same"are the kinds of notionsthat science seeks to discover, and satisfy other externalist assumptions. Thinking aboutthe worldis no doubt"fundamental to ourexistence", but this does not seem to be a good way to gain a betterunderstanding of the matter. Thephilosophical seemsoddlyframed inquiry in otherrespectsas well. Thusthe word"water" is a collectionof phonetic,semantic,andformal whichareaccessedby variousperformance properties, systemsfor articabout the world,andso on. If we denythatits ulation,perception, talking meaningis in the head, why not also thatits phoneticaspectsare in the head?Why does no one proposethatthe phoneticcontentof "water" is determined motionsof moleculesor conventions by certain about"proper The questionsareunderstood pronunciation"? to be absurd or irrelevant. Whynot also in the case of meaning? The literaturesuggests some answers. Thus, Putnam'sconclusions andH20are in partmotivated about"water" by the problemof intelligiAs he pointsout, we do not wantto say that bility in scientificdiscourse. Bohrwas talkingutternonsensewhenhe usedthe term"electron" in pretheoreticdays, or that all his statementswere false. To avoid quantum such absurdconclusions,PutnamarguesthatBohr was referring to real atomsandelectrons,whichperhaps some expertscan finallytell us about (or maybe not). If referenceis determined by meaning,then meanings aren'tin the head,as Twin-Earth aresupposedto show. experiments The argument, however,is not persuasive,for reasonsbeyond those already mentioned. Jay Atlas (1989) has pointed out that nuclear engineersdistinguish"lightwater"from"heavywater", only the former being H20.Takingthem as experts,have we been misusing"water" all chemistswere using along, really meaninglight water?Pre-Avogadro,

LanguageandNature 45

"atom" and"molecule" interchangeably. Torender whattheyweresaying intelligible,do we haveto assumethattheywerereferring to whatarenow called "atoms" and "molecules" (or what they really are, which no one todaymayknow)?Afterthe Bohrmodelof the atomwas available, it was proposedthat acids and bases be understoodas potentialacceptorsor donorsof electrons,which made boronand aluminiumchloridesacids alongsideof sulphuricacid, openingup "a whole new areaof physical inorganic chemistry" (Brock 1992, p. 482). Wereearlierscientistsreally to boronas an acid?Mustwe assumethatto render referring theirviews intelligible? To takea simplerexample,closerto home,mustwe assumethatstructuralphonologists, 40 years ago, were referring to what generative phonologistscall phonological units,thoughthey hotly deniedit andrightly so? Structuralist phonologyis surelyintelligible;withoutassumingthat there are entities of the kind it postulated,much of the theory can be reinterpreted today,with manyresultscarried over. Whatis required in all suchcases is somedegreeof sharedstructure. In noneof themis thereanyprincipled to determine much be way how must shared, or what"similarity of belief' is required. it is usefulto Sometimes andreformulate noteresemblances ideas,sometimesnot.The sameis true of theearlierandlaterBohr.Nothingmoredefiniteis required to maintain the integrity of the scientificenterprise or a respectable notionof progress towards theoretical understanding. Putnamobjectsthatmere structural similarity"is very differentfrom sayingthateithertheorydescribes,howeverimperfectly, the behaviorof the elusive extra-mental we referto as electrons"-or light phenomena
water, atoms and molecules, acids and bases, phonemes, etc. That is true,

but not relevant.In all cases, includingthe current theories,we have to addwhatever it is thatdistinguishes theoriesaboutthe worldfromscience fiction. We take such theories to describe extra-mentalphenomena, howeverimperfectly, whetherthey involve Apollo and the sun, Galen's fourhumours andthe atomsof Democritus, Descartes's tubeswithanimal spirits,... , andon to today'sattempts. But in no case is thereany convincingreasonto adopta theoryof real reference of thekindthathasbeen basedon externalist of this nature. arguments Theseconsiderations aside,discussionsaboutreference in the sciences haveno particular bearingon humanlanguageandcommonsense underunless we addthe further standing thatsuch wordsas "elecassumption tron","base","eigenvector", and so on, belong to English "phoneme", andothernatural languages, presumably in which alongwithexpressions they appear, etc. Putnamhas assumed perhapsalso formulas,diagrams, thatthe lexiconis homogeneous in this sense.Thusin defending meaning



holism,he arguesthatthe theoryof meaningmustdeal with"thehardest whichwas once definedin case";he gives the exampleof "momentum", a way now takento expressa falsehood.Howeverwe interpret this, it has no bearingon the inquiryinto languageunless we assumethat"momentum"in the physicist'ssense entersthe lexiconby the samemechanisms of thelanguage facultythatallowa childto pickup suchwordsas "house" and "rise",and has the propertiesof lexical entriesdetermined by the languagefaculty.Thatseems dubious,to say the least. Putnam(1993, p. 383) is rightto say thatI "agreethatthereis such a in thetechnicalsense,or at leastmaybe, butmisses relation as reference", my point: it is reasonableto suppose that naturalisticinquiryaims to construct symbolicsystemsin which certainexpressionsare intendedto But thereis no reasonto believe thatsuch pick out thingsin the world.22 endeavours informus aboutordinary languageandcommonsenseunderIt seems to me surprising thatPutnam shouldtakethe position standing. he does, given his eloquentcritiqueof "scientism". Puttingmeaningaside, are the contentsof thoughtexternallydetermined?We cannotsensibly ask such questionsaboutcontent, wide or narrow,technicalnotions again. But we can ask whetherwe attribute thatdo notkeepto theirinternal state.That thoughts to peopleon grounds we do is clearwithoutexotic examples.If Jonestells me he is mourning 50 yearsago, I can properly thosewho died in the trenchesat Verdun say WarII; thathe is reallytalkingabout(thinking WarI, notWorld of) World thathe is mistaken aboutWorld WarII, whichis whathe or,alternatively, is talkingabout(thinkingof). In the firstcase, I am attributing to him a state thatis not internal; the attribution is based on my beliefs, not his. Thereis no realquestionas to whether psychologydealswithJones'sstate as specifiedin this case; thatis againa questionof decision,in this case, about the invented technical term "psychology". Similarly, if Anna is modelledon a realperson,Tolstoymighthavebeenthinking, Karenina talking,havingbeliefs, etc., abouther, and some of his knowledgeable readersas well; andas for Smith,who knowsnothingaboutthis, I might decideone way or another, as circumstances vary.Howeverthisturnsout, it tells us nothingaboutthe "real" subjectmatterof psychology,though these could be reasonable topics for internalist inquiryinto how people thatseeksto findoutaboutthe internal talkaboutthe world,inquiry states thatlead people to describeothersin variousways as they interpret circumstances variously.
22 Irrelevantly here,it couldbe thata technicalnotionof reference shouldbe introduced in the studyof the syntaxof mentalrepresentations, muchas relations amongphoneticfeaturesareintroduced intophonology.

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In this contexttoo, the thoughtexperiments designedto support antiinternalist conclusionsoften seem based on questionableassumptions. Takefor exampleLynneRudder Baker'slocust-cricket example,slightly simplified (Baker1988).SupposethatJonesspeaksordinary English,and Smithdoes too except thatin his speechcommunity, cricketsare called locusts. SupposeJ learnshis languagefromJones,andS fromSmith,and between they learnthe term"locust" fromthe same pictures,ambiguous locustsandcrickets,alongwith"information whichby chancepertains to bothlocustsandcrickets". Since the intentions of the instructors aredifferent,it "seemsstraightforward", Bakerconcludes,thatJ has "acquired thebelief thatlocustsarea menaceand[S]acquired thebeliefthatcrickets area menace", thoughJ andS arein the sameinternal state Underthese assumptions, J and S will generalizethe same way, so if presentedwith an unambiguous locust they will each call it "a locust", thoughS will be makingan errorbecause the beliefs he expresses are aboutcrickets,notlocusts.SupposeS movesto an islandwith speakers of an unrelatedlanguage,and his descendantslearnexactly his language, all recordsandcognateshavingdisappeared; indefinitely, similarly J. The in theirlanguageand its use, J and S progenyare now indistinguishable andthe historyis unrecoverable Nevso theycouldneverlearnotherwise. thatthey have different ertheless,it shouldseem straightforward beliefs, and that the S progeny are making many errors in using their word "locust", alwaystalkingaboutandthinking of crickets. It couldbe, in fact, thatwe areof the S-progeny type, thatsomewherein the mists of prehisthe wordthatbecame"locust" underthe contoryourancestors acquired ditions of S, their instructor having intendedto referto some different arereally speciesX, so thatthebeliefs we expressusingthe word"locust" aboutX's andareoftenmistaken. to me, even the first Nothingof the sort seems at all straightforward step. But it's also not clear why it matters.Supposewe acceptBaker's Whatwouldthistell us aboutlanguage, At intuitions. belief, andthought? most,thatsometimeswe mightattribute beliefs etc. to X in termsof other butthatis clearfromsimpleandordinary people'sbeliefs andintentions; cases. Again, inquiryinto the ways we attribute belief as circumstances andethnoscience, butthe varyis a legitimate topicof linguisticsemantics study of how people attain cognitive states, interact,and so on, will course. proceedalongits separate A standard externalist is thatunlessthe externalworlddeterargument minesthe contentsof the thoughtof an agent,"itis an uttermysteryhow that agent's thoughtscan be publicly available to another"(Bilgrami the assumption is not needed.To accountfor 1992,p. 4). Forpsychology, the way Smithunderstands whatJonessays we neednotappealto entities



in the external worldthatcorrespond to thephonetic representations in the mindof SmithandJones(say,some kindof motionsof moleculesassociatedwith the syntacticentity"bilabial stop");andexternal objectsareno in the case of meaningsand thoughts.Otherpossibilities more required arecertainlyavailable,andprobably correct.Thusit could be thatSmith assumesthatJonesis identicalto him,modulosomemodifications M, and then seeks to workout M, a task thatmay be easy, hard,or impossible. Insofaras Smithsucceeds,he attributes to Jones the expressionthathis own mind constructs, includingits soundand meaning,communication beinga more-or-less affair.23 And usinga varietyof otherinformation, he in a similarway. seeks to ascertain Jones'sthoughts, perhaps Tobe sure,this is psychology,andthe issues aresupposed to ariseonly in folk psychology,for Bilgramiat least. But the conclusionsseem no the better foundedhere.Wehaveno reasonto believethatMaryinterprets interactionsof Smith and Jones by postulating "publicly available" it is notclear entitiesthatfix thoughts, meanings, or sounds.Furthermore, thata mysteryaboutcommunication wouldeven be relevantto folk psychology, which need not and commonly does not face the task of resolvingsuchproblems. Examplesof the Twin-Earth type serve as one prongof conventional externalisttheoriesof languageand thought.The otherpronginvolves deference to authority and experts, coinmunity norms, and so on. Meaningsare said not to be "inthe head"becausethey arefixed in such terms.Again,we may askwherethe conceptof meaningunderinvestigationbelongs.It is plainlynotpartof some scientificinquiry into language in and its use, or into the lexical entry for "meaning" and "language" a studyof "thecommonsense English.Is it speculative ethnoscience, psychological explanationof humanbehavior",as Bilgrami (1992, p. 15) describesthe project,while rejectingthis prongof the argument (rightly, I believe)?Perhaps thatis whatis intended, butif so, theconclusionsseem highly variable, as conditions vary, with nothing of much clarity

Whateverthe inquirymay be about,it cruciallyrelies on a notionof If it is the notionof thatremains "common, publiclanguage" mysterious. In it is uselessfor anyformof theoretical ordinary discourse, explanation. the empiricalstudyof language,it has long been takenfor grantedthat there is nothing in the world selected by such terms as "Chinese",or
23 It does not follow, however, that "meaning alike for us merely means, if anything, that we are communicating successfully" (Quine, unpublished manuscript, cited by Dreben 1993). Similarly, sounding alike for us does not merely mean that we are communicating successfully. In both cases, there is a good deal more to say about what is "alike" in terms of shared properties of language and mind, when we depart from Quine's anti-naturalistbehaviourist strictures.

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"German", or even muchnarrower ones. Speakingthe same languageis much like "livingnear"or "lookinglike";thereare no categoriesto be fixed.Thefactthatordinary language providesno way to referto whatmy granddaughter is speakingis fine for ordinary life, but empiricalinquiry requiresa differentconcept.In thatinquiry, her languagefacultyis in a certainstate,whichdetermines Communi(orperhaps is) her"language". in human ties, cultures,patterns of deference,and so on, are established life in all sorts of ways, with no particular relationto anythingwe call "languages" in informaldiscourse.Thereis no meaningful answerto the questionwhether Bert shouldreferto the painin his thighas arthritis; or whether he shoulduse the word"disinterested" to mean"unbiased", as the dictionary says, or "uninterested", as virtuallyevery speaker believes;or whether he shouldpronounce wordsas in Bostonor London.24 Thereis simplyno way of makingsenseof this prongof the externalist theoryof meaningandlanguage,as far as I can see, or of any of the work in theory of meaning and philosophy of language that relies on such notions,a statement thatis intended to cut a rather wide swath. In brief, thoughnaturalism does not entail an internalist it approach, In actualempirical does seemto leaveno realisticalternative. that inquiry, is regularly approach adopted,even whenthatis denied,a matterI have discussedelsewhere;as is familiar, whatscientistsaredoing to determine we investigate theirpractice, not whatthey say aboutit. As noted earlier,the issue of legitimacyof inquiriesthat go beyond limitsdoes not arise.This shouldbe the meresttruism. internalist Accordingly, I am constantlysurprised to readthatI andothersdeny it. Thus a recent text on sociolinguistics opens with the remarkableclaim that "modernlinguistics has generallytakenfor grantedthat grammars are unrelated an absurd to the social lives of theirspeakers", idea, advocated attributes by no one, whichthe author to my insistencethat"questions of
power ... are not the sorts of issues which linguists should address"

(Romaine 1994)-that I should not engage in activities that occupy a good partof my time andenergy.The book ends withthe conclusionthat
24 These observations, familiar in the study of language, should be distinguished from Davidson's conclusion (1986) that "there is no such thing as a language" in the sense generally assumed by "philosophers and linguists", "no such thing to be learned, mastered, or born with". But Davidson has a very different notion of language in mind; and though he is surely right in thinking that "there is no such thing", the argumentfor that conclusion or about the notions of the empirical study of language is flawed. He observes correctly that in actual communication, all sorts of conjectures are used in a "passing theory", which is a psychological particular.But it does not follow that there is no use for "the concept of a language", for a "portableinterpretingmachine set to grind out the meaning of an arbitraryutterance",etc. That would be like arguing that there is no jet stream, because of the chaotic elements in weather patterns. See note 15; and Chomsky (1993a) for further comment.



inequalitiesin powerand sta"linguistic differencesenact and transmit tus"-there are,for example,prestigedialects-a discoverythatis heldto by is not illuminated refutemy contention thatthe studyof suchmatters aboutthe nature of language. whatis presently understood often put forthwith Similarpronouncements aboundin the literature, muchpassionandindignation. to be basedon a belief thatI They appear In particular, they haveindeedexpressed: thatpeopleshouldtell the truth. should not claim special insight in areas of humanconcernunless the thatspecialknowledge, claimsaretrue;andif theyare,they shouldimpart mattersmerely serves to which is rarelydifficult.Posturingaboutsuchintimidate and marginalize, reinforcing "inequalities in power and is a status". Furthermore, to makevery clearthe limits of understanding is givenoften in a culture in whichallegedexpertise seriousresponsibility in areasof basichuman concerncandraw unwarranted prestige.If inquiry well and fromauthentic discoveriesaboutlanguage,vision, or whatever, it As for sociolinguistics, good, butthathas to be shown,not proclaimed. It borrows from externalist by definition. is a perfectlylegitimateinquiry, internalistinquiryinto humans,but suggests no alternativeto it. How much its findings illuminate issues of power and status is a separate question. (1993) interprets my comments(actually, To cite another case, Putnam language" as implying thatunless"cultures truisms)about"shared public can be defined essentialistically",we should "forget about them and returnto the serious business of computermodelling"-by which he seems to mean naturalistic inquiryinto the languagefaculty,to which thoughit has never computer modellingmightmake some contribution, been a particular interestof mine. But the problemsfaced by uncritical or relianceon this notion are not overcomeby invocationof "culture" "culturalartifacts";and recognition of simple facts about Chinese, English, etc., and about the irrelevance of culture to the matters in cross-cut question,in no way suggeststhe conclusionhe draws.Cultures thatmightreasonably be called"languages" in all sortsof ways, anything wherethey were. and"cultural studies" leave the problems
Putnam's statement that "Languages and meanings are cultural reali-

in one sense, whichis why (like everyone ties"(his emphasis)is accurate in the cultures we more else) I describethe way the termsareunderstood or less share in terms of structuresof power and authority,deference monuments, flags and(oftenmythical)histories,andso patterns, literary are used in differentways in otherspeech on. Suchtermsas "language" communities;and our terms belief, meaning,etc., commonlylack any close counterpart. Butthese"cultural realities" do notcontribute to underandused, how it is conunderstood, standinghow languageis acquired,

Language and Nature


stituted andchangesovertime,how it is related to otherfacultiesof mind andto humanactiongenerally.Neitherthe empiricalstudyof language itself, nor Putnam's"cultural studies (history,anthropology, sociology, partsof philosophy)", whenseriouslypursued, makeuse of the notionof "shared public language" of ordinary usage, apart from informal comment; in various contexts, an anthropologist may speak of the Chinese,or Chinese-Japanese, or EastAsianculturearea,of the culture of scientistsspeakingentirelydifferentlanguages,of the cultureof slumdwellersin New York,Cairo,andRio, andso on, in an intricate that array lacks any interesting relationto the languagesspoken,or whatarecalled "languages" in ordinary usageor in ourliterary culturesandothers. Such languages often are "culturalartifacts"in a narrowersense: thatfew may speakandthatmay partially invented"standard languages" It is in termsof suchartifacts that even violatethe principles of language. in manycultures, and"correct matters of "norms"' usage"aredetermined studies", if onlybecausetheyaretoo transparent. littleinterest to "cultural Thereis littleinterest in studying thebehavior of theFrench Academy, for example. In culturalstudies,as in informalusage, we say, perfectlyintelligibly, thatJohnspeaksthe samelanguageas Bill, looks like Bill, andlives near Bill. But we are not thereforemisled into believing that the world is dividedintoobjectiveareasor places,orthatthereis a shapethatJohnand Bill share; Theproblem is notopentexture or lack or a commonlanguage. as Putnam of "sharp boundaries", believes, any morethanin the case of or "era". arein factquitesharply determined "Standard "area"9 languages" (e.g., by the French Academy).In otherusagestoo theboundaries of "language" are reasonablysharp,as these things go, determinedby such mattersas colors on maps and the like. But ordinary usage providesno thatcomes even close to meetingthe notionof "shared publiclanguage" of empiricalinquiryor seriousphilosophical reflectionon requirements andits use, andno moreadequate notionhasbeenproposed. Nor language is thereanexplanatory sucha notion, gapthatwouldbe filledby inventing as far as is known. A centralpoint of the articleon which Putnamis commenting is that "Manyquestions, includingthose of greatesthumansignificanceone we approach themin mightargue,do not fall withinnaturalistic inquiry; otherways".Thereis no implication or that we should there, elsewhere, but only that we keep to "theseriousbusinessof computer modelling", shouldkeepto "serious business", whatever the domain. withintemalist Is therea problem to other (orindividualist) approaches domains of psychology?So it is widely claimed,buton dubiousgrounds, I think.Takethe studyof hearing. One long-standing questionis how the


Noam Chomsky

auditory cortexdetermines the locationof a sound.Theredoes not seem to be any "auditory map",as thereis a visual and somatosensory map. Some recent work suggests that the auditory cortex registers sound locationnotby spatialarrangement of neurons, butby a temporal pattern of firingin a kindof "Morsecode"(Barinaga1994, Middlebrooks, et al. 1994). The discussionis wordedin the usual mixtureof technicaland informal discourse. Someonereading it mightbe misledintothinking that the theoryof auditory is externalist, perception makingcrucialreference to "solvingproblems" posedby the externalworldof sounds.But thatis an illusion. The auditory system doesn't "solve problems" in any technical senseof thisterm,andif theyknewhow to do so, theresearchers might choose to stimulatethe receptorsdirectlyinsteadof using loudspeakers-much as they did in the computer model which, in fact, provided the mainevidencefor theirtheoryof soundlocalization, which wouldwork as well for a brainin a vat as for an owl turningits headto face a mousein the brush. The sameconsiderations applyto the studyof visualperception along lines pioneeredby David Marr,which has been much discussedin this Thisworkis mostlyconcerned withoperations connection. carried outby the retina; of retinalimagesto the visualcortex. loosely put,the mapping Marr's famousthreelevels of analysis-computational,algorithmic, and implementation-have to do with ways of construingsuch mappings. Again,the theoryappliesto a brainin a vat exactlyas it does to a person seeing an object in motion.The lattercase has indeedbeen studied,in workof Marr's collaborator ShimonUllman.His studiesof determination of structure frommotionusedtachistoscopic thatcausedthe presentations to see a rotating subject cube,thoughtherewas no suchthingin the environment; "see",here, is used in its normalsense, not as an achievement verb.If Ullmancould have stimulated the retinadirectly,he wouldhave donethat;or the opticnerve.The investigation, Ullmanwrites,"concerns thenature of the internal usedby thevisualsystemandthe representations processesby whichthey arederived" (Ullman1979,p. 3). The accountis completely internalist. There is no meaningful question about the "content" of the internal of a personseeing a cube under representations the conditions of the experiments,or if the retina is stimulatedby a rotating cube, or by a video of a rotating cube;or aboutthe contentof a frog's"representation of' a fly or of a movingdot in the standard experimentalstudiesof frogvision.No notionlike "content", or "representation of', figureswithinthe theory,so thereare no answersto be given as to theirnature. The sameis truewhenMarrwritesthathe is studyingvision as "a mappingfrom one representation to another,and in the case of humanvision, the initial representation is in no doubt-it consists of

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in the arraysof image intensityvalues as detectedby the photoreceptors is not to be underretina"(Marr1982, p. 3 1)-where "representation" of". as "representation stoodrelationally, "breaking down"under talk aboutalgorithms Technicalpresentations some conditions,and giving the "correctanswer"in others,where the "correctanswer"may be, for example, the strong three-dimensional dot stereogram. Theymay also speakof "misperceptgivenby a random in the case of the personor frog in the experiments, though perception" on a streetlightis activated by a searchnotwhena photoreceptor perhaps light ratherthan the sun. And they speak of the brain as "solving problems"and as "adaptedto normalsituations"in which the visual system "represents"objective features of the external world. Such that point:"thepremise informal usagesconformto TylerBurge'sstarting and or is aboutobjects,properties, our perceptual experiencerepresents relations thatareobjective", a premisethatgoes beyondan individualistinternalist (1988). Butthese usagesareon a parwith an astronapproach thata cometis aimingdirectlytowardthe Earth,implying omerwarning physics. no animist,intentional of The internalist study of languagealso speaksof "representations" at the various kinds, including phonetic and semanticrepresentations "interface" with othersystems.But heretoo we need not ponderwhatis fromsoundsor things. represented, seekingsome objectiveconstruction in the are mental Therepresentations postulated entities,to be understood of the consequence manner cube,whether of a mentalimageof a rotating cubeor of stimulation of or of a realrotating presentations tachistoscopic Accessed by the retinain some otherway; or imagined,for thatmatter. of languageenterinto representations systems,the internal performance andaction,butthereis no reasonto seek anyother thought, interpretation, relation to the world,as mightbe suggestedby a well-knownphilosophical tradition andinappropriate usage.Mispercepanalogiesfrominformal it is a matterof how people tion raisesno difficultiesfor this approach; to interactions they observe-to the reactionsof a assigninterpretations frog or person in an experiment,a photoreceptorthat is "deceived", inquiryinto the psychologyof the person etc.-a fairtopic for internalist call a "misperception". who is decidingwhatto littleseemsat stakein thesedebates. Forpsychologyandethnoscience, andJ is indiscommunity, SupposeJonesis a memberof some ordinary his derives fromsome from him that total experience except tinguishable scenario. virtualrealitydesign;or let J be Jones'sTwinin a Twin-Earth experiencesand will behavethe same They have had indistinguishable is predictable at all);they havethe sameinternal way (insofaras behavior states. Suppose that J replaces Jones in the community,unknownto



of any change,everyone anyoneexceptthe observingscientist.Unaware J as Jones;J too will continueas before.The will act as before,treating a narrow indiscientistseekingthe besttheoryof all of this will construct The account vidualistaccountof Jones,J, and othersin the community. omits nothing,includingthe way membersof the communityattribute mentalstates(beliefs,meanings,perceptual contents,etc.), if they do. containsa philosopher P with the exterSupposethatthe community nalistintuitions of recentdiscussion.The theorywill assignto P the corresponding internalstate.It will now predictcorrectlythatP, takingJ to be Jones,will attribute to J the mentalstateshe did to Jones;andthatif aware of the J-Jones interchange when it occurs, P will attribute I don'tknowhow P's intuitions, different mentalstatesto J. Not sharing in a world P wouldattribute mentalstatesas J lives on in the community, of "objective" things (does J now come to shareJones's beliefs?). But whateverthe answer,the theorywill describeP's internalstatesaccordtoo, the theorywill assignto ingly. If I am a memberof the community me a differentinternalstate,in which no fixed answersare given about attribution of beliefs and meaningsto J (and nothinginterestingabout to or other,becauseI takethe technicalinnovations contents,perceptual meanwhattheirdesignerssay),various judgments beinggivenas circumstancesvary. This account deals with Jones, J, other communitymembers, and of mental states; it is people with various intuitionsabout attribution are as yet unknown, but otherwise incompleteinsofaras these intuitions to the usage nothingseemsmissingfromit, andit canreadilybe extended of otherlanguagesandcultures,as they differ.It can be converted easily and a cumbersome addingno theory,more enoughinto non-individualist for naturalistic and inquiry, new insight.Thatstepwouldbe inappropriate it is unclearwhatotherpurposeit mightserve. "solvingproblems", or being adapted Talkaboutorgansor organisms as metaphoric shorthand. to theirfunctions,is to be understood similarly: aredesignedto the wings of a butterfly Thereis no questionas to whether andstill "solvethe problem" of flight;they evolved as thermoregulators, theircurrent If we wereto learnthattheyreached state servethatpurpose. beforethey were ever used to fly, they would still now have the function The humanvisualsystemis malaof flightandwouldservethatpurpose. to seeing in the dark,but is not a failurefor thatreason.The spine dapted as is badlydesignedfroman engineering of largevertebrates standpoint, a success butit is neither mostpeopleknowfromtheirpersonal experience; but none the worse nor a failure.Humanlanguagesare in partunusable, for that;peopleuse the partsthatareusable.It has veryrecentlybeen diskinds to particular coveredthatwhile insectsseem marvellously adapted

Language and Nature


of flowering theirpresent plants,in factinsectsachievedvirtually diversity andstructure millionsof yearsbeforeflowering plantsexisted.Whenthey "there wasalready of solutions appeared, waitingforthemanencyclopedia waiting for the problemsto be solved", RichardLewontinpoints out, intendingto stressthe meaninglessness of these intuitivecategoriesfor a misreading of informal biology.It is, correspondingly, talkto conclude states that represent that Marr'stheoryof vision attributes "intentional because"There is no otherway to treatthe objective,physicalproperties" visual system as solving the problemthatthe theorysees it as solving" (Burge1986).Thetheoryitselfhasno placefortheconceptsthatenterinto the informal intended for generalmotivation. The statement presentation, "theideathatwe classifyourperceptual phenomenology withoutspecifying the objectiveproperties thatoccasion it is wildly out of touch with actualempiricaltheoriesof perceptionas well as with commonsense" with regardto common (Burge 1988) is correctin some circumstances sense, but misleadingwith regardto empiricaltheories of perception, whichareconcerned withhowthingsworkandwithperceptual reports and intuitiveclassifications only as evidencebearingon this matter.25 takesinto account Studyingany organicsystem, a biologist naturally environmental and law that are interactions physical likely to have influenced mutations, reproductive success, and the courseof development. For motivation and intuitive guidance, the biologist might speak of forcedon themby systemsas having"evolvedto solve certainproblems with "Differentspecies [set] differentproblemsand the environment", solv[ing]themdifferently" (Burge1988). Butthis is informal talk,andif it is discovered that the course of evolution was not what had been thought,as in the case of insectsandflowers,the actualtheoryof sensory processingandothersystemsis not modified,with differentattributions and individuation, and revised descriptions of intentional content, mistakes, functions, purposes,problemssolved, and so on. Similarly, hadbeen constructed in an supposeit were discoveredthatourancestors andsentto earthby spaceship30,000 yearsago, extraterrestial laboratory so thatnaturalselectionplayedvirtuallyno role in the formation of the kidney, visual system, arithmetical competence, or whatever. The technicalsectionsof textbooks on the physiologyof the kidneywouldnot be modified, northe actualtheoryof the functionscomputed by theretina or of otheraspectsof the humanvisualandothersystems. The critiqueof internalism (individualism) gains no moreforce from the observationthat, in normalenvironments,internalprocesses are
25 Lewontin (1994); Labandeiraand Sepkoski (1993). The discussions in the literatureabout "what Marrmeant" are somewhat strange; what matters is what a scientist does, not what he may have had in mind. For what seems to me an accurate account of Marr's actual theory, see Frances Egan n.d..



reliablycorrelated withdistalproperties (objectboundaries, andso on). In which may otherenvironments, they correlatewith differentproperties, be distal properties or directretinal(or deeperinternal)stimulation. We can say, if we like, that"wherethe constraints thatnormallyenable an to computea cognitivefunctionare not satisfied,it will fail to organism represent its environment" is our way of (Egann.d.); but that "failure" describing some humanend thatwe imposefor reasonsunrelated to naturalistic muchas in thecase of thefailureof a cometto hitJupiter, inquiry, as we hopedit would.Nor is it relevant thatconsideration of "representation" in normalenvironmentsallows us to associate the system under described analysiswiththeinformally cognitivefunctionof vision.It'sno task of science to conform to the categoriesof intuition,or to decide whetherit is still "vision"in abnormal environments or if partsof the brainnormally used for otherpurposestakeover some of the analysisof visual images, as they sometimesdo. The studyof perception naturally begins with informally presented "cognitive tasks", but cares little whethersomethingsimilarto themis discovered as it progresses. Informal discussion of evolutionary processes makes use of such butagainthatis not to be takentoo serilocutionsas "solvingproblems", ously. Physical law provides narrowchannels within which complex selectionis doubtlessa factorin deterorganisms may vary,and natural withintheseconstraints. A of traitsandproperties miningthe distribution factor,not the factor,at least if we follow Darwin'ssensible strictures. Much concernedby the misinterpretation of his ideas, Darwinfirmly denied that he attributed"the modificationof species exclusively to in thelasteditionof Originof Speciesthat natural selection", emphasizing I placedin a In the first editionof this work,and subsequently, mostconspicuous position-namely, at the close of the Introduction-the followingwords:"Iamconvincedthatnatural selection has been the mainbut not the exclusivemeansof modification". This has been of no avail.Greatis the powerof steadymisrepresentation. Darwintook explicitnote of a rangeof possibilities,includingnonadaptive modificationsand unselectedfunctionsdetermined from structure (see Gould 1982, p. 49-50). Wecannotsensiblyestimatethe weightthatwill be assignedto natural selectionas a mechanism of evolutionas moreis learnedaboutcomplex selfsystems, the operationof physicallaw, the factorsin spontaneous in living as in otherphysicalsystems,andso on.26 The status organization
26 See Waldrop(1990); Bradley (1994). The proposals reportedin the latter review have been undermined,but the problem remains of accounting for prevailing asymmetries ranging from the "molecular handedness" of amino acids and DNA through location and orientation of organs.

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of internalist is unaffected approaches by suchconsiderations, whether we arethinking of antsandthe kidney,or languageandmind. Virtually every aspectof the studyof languageandmindseems to me to involve unjustified non-naturalist If this discussionis assumptions.27 on the righttrack,one wouldwantto ask why suchideas appear so compelling.The answercouldbe thatourcommonsense pictureof the world is profoundly dualistic,ineradicably, just as we can'thelp seeing the setting of the sun, or sharing Newton's belief in the "mechanical philosophy"that he undermined, or watchingthe wave that "flees the place of its creation", as Leonardo putit, independently of whatwe may know in some othercornerof ourminds.If so, andif metaphysical dualism has been undermined,what is left is a kind of methodological dualism, an illegitimate residue of common sense that should not be allowedto hampereffortsto gain understanding into whatkind of creatureswe are.
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