Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Cognitive Reductionism About Language

Cognitive Reductionism about languages is the following (empirical) claim:
Every language L is spoken/cognized by some one or more speakers.
That is, the claim that languages can be reduced to cognitve states of some one or more speakers. However, I think that cognitive reductionism is deeply mistaken. There are languages which are not spoken, or cognized.

So, on my view, statements of the form:
Agent A cognizes language L
Agents A and B cognize the same ("shared") language L.
are contingent empirical claims. The agent A might not have cognized L. Whether agents A and B cognize a "shared" language is an empirical question.

It seems clear that, as a matter of empirical observation, agents never cognize the same language (though this is contingent, of course). There are lexical, phonological, semantic, pragmatic, etc., differences. And this phenomenon---heterogeneity in speech communities---requires explanation.


  1. There are languages which are not spoken, or cognized.

    Are you thinking of things like Linear A?

  2. I mean things like arbitrary interpreted languages, infinitary languages, and so on. Or, for example, the guitar language,


  3. Or, for example, the various permuted interpreted languages discussed by Quine, Putnam and Kripke. Or, for example, uninterpreted languages as studied in formal language theory (i.e., here $L$ is an uninterpreted language; a subset of the set $A^{\ast}$ of words over an alphabet $A$).