Friday, November 16, 2012

Language: material, structural, social, spiritual

What do we do with theories or explanations of language which take material/biological descriptions of things related to language as ultimate -- that is, as explaining all that needs to be explained about language?

The nice thing about these explanations is that we don't need to do away with them. What we can do, though, is show why they don't adequately address important questions about language. I can imagine four related approaches to big questions about what language is, what it does, what it means, etc: material, structural, social, and spiritual. (Although maybe the spiritual is close enough to the social.) Material would be stuff like how we physically are able to make words, how our brains know how to make language, etc. Structural would be a detailed descriptions of what languages or language actually is -- all its components like words and sounds and stuff. Social (obviously primary for me) would be communication, discourse, and all the things people do with language. Spiritual would be a kind of bottom-line basis for language from a theistic view of the world -- language/meaning/logos as something uniquely given to humans by our Creator for certain reasons, and implications for that.

I don't mean to keep running into these ultimate questions about language, but I keep seeing these books and articles about neo-Darwinian materialism (not related to language specifically, though occasionally), and I feel like I want language people to have a thicker and deeper understanding of why that kind of thing probably won't work for "explaining" everything about language.

PS: Related, sort of: brainstorming a paper/presentation on Wendell Berry and language. 

Coming soon: re-focusing on dissertation! Come on!


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