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Humboldt & the Continental European Heritage

PHI 4313: Philosophy of Language:

Main figures discussed

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) Noam Chomsky (1928- )

Biology, then and now Mathematics Physics Linguistics the new science

As a Tool of expression? As a Social Institution, means of communication As Intellectual competence As World-views, as Mans means of discerning the world House of Being (Haus des Seins)? Language as a system

Quotations from Chomsky (1)

Erzeugung (17) -> generative grammar. Spracherzeugung (20) [die Sprache] muss daher von endlichen Mitteln einen unendlichen Gebrauch machen. (17) The fact that every language makes infinite use of finite means (W. von Humboldt) has long been understood. (LM 127) The generative grammar internalized by someone who has acquired a language defines what in Saussurean terms we may call langue. (10)
Concept of Internalization (CIL 11, 112; LM 119, 170)

For Humboldt, as for many others before and since, a word does not stand directly for a thing, but rather for a concept. There can, accordingly, be a multiplicity of expressions for the same objects, each representing a way in which this object has been conceived through workings of the process of Spracherzeugung (20) Consequently, a language should not be regarded merely, or primarily, as a means of communication, and the instrumental use of language is derivative and subsidiary. (21) Schopenhauer: (PP-II-620) Polyglottism, neben seinen vielen mittelbaren Nutzen, auch ein direktes Bildungsmittel des Geistes ist.

Quotations from Chomsky (2)

The notions deep structure and surface structure are intended as explications of the Humboldtian notions inner form of a sentence and outer form of a sentence (the general notion form is probably more properly to be related to the notion generative grammar itself. The terminology is suggested by the usage familiar in contemporary analytic philosophy [cf., for example, Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 168 (Oxford, 1953)]. C.F. Hockett has also used these terms [A course in modern linguistics, Ch. 29 (New York, 1958)] in roughly the same sense. (Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar, 1966, p.16) It is, however, important to be aware of the fact that the concept generative grammar itself is no very great innovation. The fact that every language makes infinite use of finite means (Wilhelm von Humboldt) has long been understood. Modern work in generative grammar is simply an attempt to give an explicit account of how the finite means are put to infinite use in particular languages and to discover the deeper properties that define human language in general.. (Language & Mind, 127)

Quotations from Chomsky (3) reservation against empiricism

The childs ultimate knowledge of language obviously extends far beyond the data presented to him. In other words, the theory he has in some way developed has a predictive scope of which the data on which it is based constitute a negligible part. (Language & Mind, 171) Until quite recently, no one, to my knowledge, was aware of this phenomenon I also think, and have argued elsewhere, that the empiricist doctrines that have been prevalent in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology in recent years, if formulated in a fairly precise way, can be refuted by careful study of language these conclusions are relevant to philosophy, both in its classical and modern varieties. (Language & Mind, 172) It seems to me that present theories of transformational generative grammar provide a basis for extending and deepening our understanding of linguistic structure. In any event, whether or not this hope is ultimately justified, it seems clear that to pursue the goals of 1 in any serious way, it is necessary to go far beyond the restricted framework of modem taxonomic linguistics and the narrowly-conceived empiricism from which it springs. (CIL 113) 6

Quotations from Chomsky (4)

Linguistic creativity
Rule governed creativity Rule changing creativity (ironic, poetic, metaphoric and philosophic-speceulative use of language)

Sapir: All grammar leaks. Problems vs Mysteries

Our minds are fixed biological systems with their intrinsic scope and limits. We can distinguish between problems, which lie within these limits and can be approached by human science with some hope of success, and what we might call mysteries, questions that simply lie beyond the reach of our minds, structured and organized as they are. (Rules & Representations, page 6.)


Piaget and Apel on Chomsky

Bloomfield: Baconian-inductive model Chomsky: Keplerian-deductive model

Chomsky: Within the empirical bounds just stated, we are free to construct theories of innate structures and to test them in terms of their empirical consequences. (LM: 170)

Res extensa => Newton Res cogitans => Chomsky (the Newton of res cogitans)

Chomsky Critics
George Lakoff Cognitive Linguistics / core-periphery distinction Charles Fillmore case grammar William SY Wang Bresnan, Joan: "He revolutionized linguistics but did it in a divisive way," says former student Joan Bresnan, now a respected linguist at Stanford University, in California. He's a polarizer. He's created warring schools. Mason, Timothy, Could Chomsky be wrong? msky.htm

Chomsky criticizes Saussure from a Humboldtian aspect

Saussure, like Whitney [], regards langue as basically a store of signs with their grammatical properties, that is, a store of word-like elements, fixed phrases and, perhaps, certain limited phrase types (though it is possible that his rather obscure concept of "mecanisme de la langue" was intended to go beyond this - cf. Godel, 1957,250). He was thus quite unable to come to grips with the recursive processes underlying sentence formation, and he appears to regard sentence formation as a matter of parole rather than langue, of free and voluntary creation rather than systematic rule []) There is no place in his scheme for "rule-governed creativity" of the kind involved in the ordinary everyday use of language. At the same time, the influence of Humboldtian holism (but now restricted to inventories and paradigmatic sets, rather than to the full-scale generative processes that constitute Form) is apparent in the central role of the notions "terme" and "valeur" in the Saussurian system. Modern linguistics is much under the influence of Saussure's conception of langue as an inventory of elements (Saussure, 1916, 154, and elsewhere, frequently) and his preoccupation with systems of elements rather than the systems of rules which were the focus of attention in traditional grammar and in the general linguistics of Humboldt.

Chomsky and Kant

Descartes and Cudworth believed the mind to be endowed with the principles of Euclidian geometry as an a priori property. We see a presented irregular figure as a (possibly distorted) triangle, straight line, circle, and so forth, because our minds produce these figures as exemplars, just as the intelligible essences of things are produced by the innate cognoscitive power. In Kants phrase, objects conform to our modes of cognition. (Rules and Representations, page 246) Tracing the development of such ideas, we arrive at Kants rather similar concept of the conformity of objects to our mode of cognition, the mind provides the means for an analysis of data as experience, and provides as well a general schematism that delimits the cognitive structures developed on the basis of experience. (Reflections on Language, p7)

Schopenhauer: On Language and Words

Learning of several languages is not an indirect, but direct, means of acquiring culture When one knows many languages, just as many times is one a man (So viele Sprache Einer kann, so viele Mal ist er ein Mensch / Quot linguas quis callet, tot homines valet) Charles V (1500-1558) For every word in a given language there is not the exact equivalent in every other
Nuances linguistic value according to Saussure

Dictionary entries of a word in a different language like shifted circles Learning of foreign languages
we learn not merely words, but gain concepts and ideas, ie. concept spheres arise where there were previously none Learning Latin: remoulded and recast connections and references, previously not known, are discovered we thus obtain a more comprehensive view of everything in every language we think differently through the study of each new language, our thinking undergoes a fresh modification and that polyglottism with its many indirect uses is, therefore, a direct means of mental culture 12

Polyglottism (bilingualism vs triangulation) (Grice, Holenstein, Kwan)