Reflections on Grammaticalization, Epiphenomena, etc....

Mark P. Line mark at
Fri Mar 17 19:31:45 UTC 2006

Salinas17 at wrote:
> In a message dated 3/15/06 2:29:27 PM, mark at writes:
> << Perhaps not so much to blind and protect us, but to make reality[1]
> intelligible (whatever the cost). Making reality intelligible does have
> the common *side-effect* of blinding us to and protecting us from the
> reality (or lack thereof) we ostensibly understand >>
> Is "reality intelligible" to my cat or dog?  They certainly act like they
> understand what's going on, sometimes, at least for their purposes --
> maybe not as much as I do, but I know some who would argue with that.

I think that cats and dogs ontogenetically construct models of their
environment that are not usefully reducible to physiological states (so we
can go ahead and call them _cognitive_ models), and I think that's a
useful working definition for intelligible-making. So, yeah.

(All viruses and organisms can be said to have phylogenetic models of
their environment in some sense, and presumably all organisms construct
models (in some sense) ontogenetically that *are* usefully reducible to
physiological states, but these are not the phenomena I was getting at in
the bit you quoted above.)

> Is their reality "intelligible" to them?  If so, how did they do it
> without human language?

I didn't mean to imply that human language is the only mechanism in the
universe by which an adaptive system (human, non-human animate or
otherwise) might make reality intelligible to itself, and I don't think I
did so imply. What I said was that I consider the intelligible-making
effect of language to be primary with respect to the blinding and
protecting effects mentioned by my interlocutor.

> Or is "intelligible" in some way reserved to humans?

No, assuming the kind of working definition I indicated above.

> Before the first human set foot in America, America was already there.
> It already had a geological and biological history that can be read
> today. It was REAL before any human ever got there.  Most things are like
> that. They don't depend on us to be created.

Models which emanate from this realist postulate are typically more useful
than models which emanate from its absence or negation, but that doesn't
mean that such alternative models cannot exist nor that they cannot be

> Language does to some degree have to be "a mirror of the world" in order
> for it to make any sense.  Grammar -- no matter how "correct" -- still
> makes absolutely no sense if it is referring to a six foot rabbit in the
> room and there is no six foot rabbit in the room.

I would tend to disagree. I think that hearers generally cause perceived
language to make sense almost at any cost, even when there may be no sense
to be made of it from a more privileged frame of reference (if you can
identify a more privileged frame of reference, that is).

(Instance for, print in sentence this understand to fail would English of
speakers native few.)

-- Mark

Mark P. Line
San Antonio, TX

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