Assumptions about Communication, etc.

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 5 22:33:42 UTC 2001

In a message dated 3/5/2001 10:39:52 AM, dan_everett at SIL.ORG writes:
<<I have missed most of this discussion. Has anyone brought up the
epistemological literature wrt these issues? Putnam, Rorty, Searle, Davidson,
Quine, Russell, Plantinga, and *many* others have spoken to these issues with
considerable sophistication. Perhaps we are straying slightly beyond the
expertise afforded by linguistics training in discussing intentionality?>>

Well, to the extent that linguistics is a science, there may be a
methodological issue that needs to be addressed.  And whether that involves
epistemology or just operationally and pragmatically defining terms like
"communication" and "intention", there may be at least the need felt for some
sense that confusion is not actively being pursued.  At minimum.  And that
need was illustrated in the message that started this trend.

In that sense, the epistemology here may be more humble in scope and may be
in the category some call the epistemology of science.  Popper versus the Pos
itivists and John Searle's "Rediscovery of the Mind" certainly have something
to say to empirical linguists.  These matters of course present themselves
quite clearly in the linguistics works of the likes of a Chomsky.

But I might suggest the issues here may be a little more narrow.  And those
issues regarding the relationship between intention and communication may be
rather straightforward and observational.

When is it justifiable for a linguist or anyone else to infer "intention"
from a piece of observable behavior?  If we feel it is justifiable to infer
intention, then does it make sense to make intention part of the working
definition of communication?

Newton proved that you don't have to isolate, define or measure gravitrons to
isolate, define or measure gravity.  Darwin even proved that you don't have
to isolate, define or measure genes in order to isolate, define or measure
evolution.  On a much less grander scale, the whole field of knowledge and
consciousness may be too big a bird to swallow in answering the questions

Not that intention is that small a bird, but at least a basic issue emerges.
In an earlier post in this tread, Tom Givon wrote strikingly: <<Of course,
you can always argue that Aristotle's 'purpose' should be interpreted as "it
looks as if they are behaving purposefully", "it looks as if the organ was
specifically designed for its 'work'". But I doubt it that in the long run
this gambit will get you too far off the hook.>>

And this in my very humble opinion is right near the core of the problem.
What is intentional is not accidental.  But some accidental things look
intentional and vice versa.  You can pick out structurally when humans have
intervened in a wilderness situation.  You can even see the functionality in
the campfire and tent postholes they left behind.  But then again the same
sort of outward signs appear in an organ like the liver, signs of
intentionality.  (A fascinating question a friend of mine has been struggling
with for a long time is how biological evolution would be different if it
evolved as a result of the intentional efforts of generations of humans
designing it.  He tried to compare the phylogenic trees of species and
automobile technology - e.g., "the Ferrari evolved from the Bugatti, with new
transmission and intake traits."  It really didn't look that different.)

On the linguistic level, the fact is that the dictionary definition of words
are not always a guide to why a person said those words.  Are random words
intentional?  Here I think we are not looking at the intention to say words
but the intention to accomplish something by saying words.  There is not a
one-to-one ratio. And that puts the intended effect of linguistic behavior in
the cross-hairs of theory in my humble opinion - and however that fits in the
epistemology of everything.

In all of this the true nature of intention may put us ahead of ourselves.
Finding out "why" we give a darn or "how" we give a darn may be premature, at
least for these purposes.  So it makes sense that we simply assume we must
give a darn in order for intention and "intentional communication" to happen.

And that, for me in my humble opinion, puts the funk back in funknet.

Steve Long

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