What is emergence anyway?

Tom Givon tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU
Fri Jul 30 17:30:31 UTC 1999


The problem is not how to reconstruct the "proto semantics" of theterm.
Neithe Brian nor Paul (nor anyone else, for that matter) should be bound
by such historical reconstruction. Technical meanings arise from older
informal usages, but are not forever bound to them by the original,
metaphoric, umbilical cord. ("Radial categories" are a DIACHRONIC, not
synchronic, phonomenon).

As I see it, a much more vexing problem is:


At the very least, we are in desperate need of some reliable procedure
by which a "strong statistical tendency" that IS the result of a
dedicated neuro-cognitive structure (an 'automated', 'routinized'
system), can be differentiated from an equally strong statistical
tengency that is NOT; i.e., from a "tendency" that is purely
"epiphenomenal" or "emergent" (in the sense Osten attributes to Paul &

As far as I know, neither Paul nor Brian have ever bothered to supply
such criteria--or even ideas about how to look for such criteria. But
this remains is a critical issue, because
   (a) many behavioral/statistical generalizations may indeed
       be epiphenomenal, the consequence of complex, indirect chains
       of dependencies. Such "tendencies" thus presumably don't have
       any structure(s)that motivate them DIRECTLY; tho some of the
       complex factors that give them rise may indeed have their own
       dedicated structures.
   (b) many behaviors that DO have strong neuro-cognitive dedicated
       structures do not reach the level of 100% generativity (re-
       gularity, predictability), but remain at the "merely
statistical"        level (say ca. 90%-95% predictability).

So, the fact that a behavioral sub-system has some residual variability
in it, by itself predicts nothing about whether the system is either
"epiphenomenal" or "routinized/automated" (by the latter I now mean
"having a dedicated neuro-cognitive structure"). And the question
cannot, in principle, be resolved by citing linguistic-communicative
(behavioral) facts alone. One has to look for other criteria.

Of course, linguistic facts can give us STRONG HINTS. A behavior that
reaches 90%-plus predictability is quite often a good candidate for
having become automated (thus having "emerged", "grammaticalized" with a
dedicated neuro-cognitively structure). Such cases are so well known in
the psychology of automaticity elsewhere (mnemonics, piano-playing,
kynesiology, etc.). But hints are only hints, and it would be nice if we
could tap into some more direct criteria from "having a dedicated mental
structure" that 'supports' grammaticalized behavior.

It would be nice if, at the very least, we could begin to shift the
discussion in that general direction.

Cheers, TG

Wolfgang Schulze wrote:
> Dear all,
> I think, all linguists (from the camp of functionalism/derivationalism)
> should be gratefull to Östen that he has raised the issue of
> 'emergence'. This problem with this term is - I think - just the same
> one as that related to other 'semi-TT' (terminus technicus) terms
> introduced in linguistics. 'Emergence' (together with its derivatives)
> clearly had its source in early 19th century 'philosophy of nature'.
> >From there, it became popularized and adopted by other scientific (as
> well as non-scientific) domains (cf. the well-documented but hardly
> reflected history of the term 'pragmatics'). Hence, 'emergence' acquired
> a relatively strong peripheric extension with respect to its semantics
> which resulted in a relatively vague use of the term.
> In fact - I think - everybody has some notion of 'emergence', though
> (s)he would have difficulties to define the term when used in everyday
> (more or less) scientific discourse. The re-specification of this term
> by e.g. Paul Hopper or Brian MacWhinney for linguistics naturally
> retains some idiosyncratic reflexes of the early (informal) use of the
> term (refering esp. to its broad semantic periphery). Östen has
> reconstructed the prototypical (or central) semantics of 'emergence'
> etc. in a very convincing way to which only little is to add.
> NB: The Latin basis 'e-mergo:' means 'rise, come up' etc., based on
> 'mergo:' 'hide, cover, dive'.... (a good IE root, cf. Walde/Hoffmann LEW
> II:76p.).
> However, since, 'emergence' has a semi-TT reading in linguistics now, it
> would be good to always state the theoretical frame work or context in
> which this term is embedded. In my own frame work ('Grammar of Scenes
> and Scenarios (Schulze 1998, see
> http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~wschulze/pkk_1abs.htm); Schulze 1999 (see
> http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~wschulze/cog_typ.htm)) for instance, I claim
> that 'emergence' is a cognitive procedure that denotes the 'dynamic
> semantics' that are activated during the structural coupling of a
> polycentric 'system' (or parts of it). By this is meant that the
> interaction of source domains (organized in form of a polycentric
> network) establishes an activation level that is characterized by the
> production (or emergence) of some kind of specific behavior. This
> behavior can be either somehow related to the behavior/properties of one
> or more source domains, or totally different from the
> behavior/properties of the source domains. The more the behavior of the
> resutlting 'higher level domain' is different from that of its source
> domains the more likely it is that its behavior is construed as a
> cognitive 'reality' (that is as a idealized cognitive model) by human
> experience. The main point is that contrary to the source domains,
> 'higher level domains' emerging therefrom do not have 'properties' etc.
> prima facie. Only IF they are construed (or experienced) as 'domains'
> they are interpreted as having (autonomous) properties of their own.
> 'Language' - in my thinking - is a construction that refers to the
> experience of emergent activities of underlying, structurally coupled
> cognitive centers (which themselves again are partly cognitive
> hypotheses resulting from the experience of emergence). Within grammar,
> the same is true for many structures that we are used to call
> 'categories'. For instance, in GSS I claim that subjecthood is the
> construction of emergent activities exerted by information flow (word
> order), NP semantics, case marking (if present), agreement (if present)
> and much more. In some languages, the experience of such emergent
> activities is secondarily 'grammaticalized' or construed as a
> 'category'. I mention this example only to stress that - according to my
> opinion - 'emergence' (if applied to human cognition) refers to both the
> BEHAVIOR of a polycentric 'system' and to its (ritualized)
> interpretation as a cognitive hypothesis. A language system does not
> HAVE a category 'subject' per se, but parts of the system may behave in
> a way that leads to the 'assumption' (or hypothesis, or ICM) that there
> should be something like a category 'subject'.
> The problem is that linguists sometimes believe in such 'categories'
> without having checked whether they really ARE (in a substantial sense)
> or whether they are nothing but (more or less) grammaticalized
> experience of emergence.
> References:
> Schulze, Wolfgang 1998. Person, Klasse, Kongruenz - Fragmente einer
> Kategorialtypologie des einfachen Satzes in den ostkaukasischen
> Sprachen. Vol. I (in two parts): Die Grundlagen. München / Newcastle:
> LINCOM Europa (esp. chapters I, III, IV).
> Schulze, Wolfgang 1999. Cognitive Linguistics meet Typology: The
> Architecture of a "Grammar of Scenes and
> Scenarios" (ms., place of publication to be announced).
> Wolfgang
> --
> [Note: My email address has been modified: Please use
> W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de!]
> ___________________________________
> | Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulze
> | Institut fuer Allgemeine und Indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft
> | Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
> | Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
> | D-80539 Muenchen
> | Tel:  +89-21802486 (secr.)
> |       +89-21805343 (office) NEW ! NEW !
> | Fax:  +89-21805345
> | Email: W.Schulze at lrz.uni-muenchen.de
> |
> |
> http://www.lrz-muenchen.de/~wschulze/
> _____________________________________________________

More information about the Funknet mailing list