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Knowledge and Language One of the ways in which we come to possess knowledge is through our possession and use

of language. This raises the issues of why language is so central to our capacity to know and of what limits or constraints language places upon our knowledge. Is our knowledge exhausted by what can be said or can something be known in a non-linguistic form? What is language? Communication Syntax rules of grammar rules of meaning


!atural "anguage - #ny language actually spoken$ as opposed to artificial languages$ whose syntax and rules are laid down for theoretical purposes. Knowledge %hat is the knowledge? relationship between language and

&ow does language influence what we can know? #ttitudes 'alues (ractices The challenge and possibility of translation

The SapirWhorf hypothesis Does language shape the world? &ere is a )iew that is probably *uite widespread in some parts of social science and language and literature departments. %e+ll call this the strong relati)ity thesis ,S-.. SThe nature of the world depends on the concepts and language I possess ,as a member of a particular linguistic and cultural community..

This is a strong thesis because it claims that the ,real. nature of the world is determined by my concepts. This seems to in)ert the relationship between world and mind. /y claims to knowledge might be circumscribed in many ways and I may regard truth as a feature of how we talk about the world rather than as determined by the world. &owe)er$ such considerations do not undermine the idea that the existence and nature of the things in the world are independent of what I think of them. This thesis of independence is a central feature of realism. S-$ though$ is probably held because a more plausible thesis is sometimes gi)en too strong an interpretation. This thesis is the Sapir-%horf &ypothesis ,S%.$ a widely used label for the linguistic relati)ity hypothesis. S% The particular language we speak shapes the way we think about the world. Our language shapes the way we concei)e of the world. It does not change in any literal way the shape of that world. Categories or concepts that may be )ery different between languages include those of time$ causation$ and the self. !ote that some superficial examples of di)ersity that are fre*uently cited are in fact spurious. It is not true$ for example$ that the Indo-#leut languages ha)e a )ast number of words for different )arieties of snow.

Does thinking about the world in different ways mean that different linguistic/ conceptual communities possess distinct kinds of knowledge? Does it mean that there are some things which are unknowable for those who do not share the language? What is the relationship between language and culture?

How is language possible? What must we know to be language users? %hen you were born you were remarkably poor in your use of 0nglish or any other language. #long with e)ery other ,non-impaired or isolated. human infant you became a proficient user of a language,s. in a relati)ely short time. 1y the age of about three you all of us display linguistic understanding and the ability to produce a wide range of grammatical sentences. How can we be language users? What is it that we know? One influential and widely accepted answer in the first half of the twentieth century is essentially an empiricist claim. 2e)eloped by beha)iourists like the psychologist 1. 3. Skinner the claim was that we ac*uire language through a process of stimulus response. That is$ we come to be language users through the experience of being immersed in a world of language users. # child learns through imitation and repetition? # word through repetition becomes associated with a particular stimulus a particular sensory experience.


The key to explaining our ac*uisition of language is the presentation of appropriate sensory experiences at appropriate times and in appropriate combinations. 4nowledge of language is built up through our experience ,)ia the senses. of the world. %e can agree that experience is necessary for the de)elopment of our knowledge of language. &owe)er$ there are big problems with the )iew that language is somehow 5ust ac*uired by ha)ing the right kind of experiences in the right kind of en)ironment.

Noam Chomsky Chomsky6 the central figure in a ma5or change in the study of linguistics from the late 789:+s.

1ig problems with the beha)iourist )iew

The competence of an adult$ or e)en a young child$ is such that we must attribute to him a knowledge of language that extends far beyond anything that he has learned. Compared with the number of sentences that a child can produce or interpret with ease$ the number of seconds in a life is ridiculously small. &ence the data a)ailable as input is only a minute sample of the linguistic material that has been thoroughly mastered$ as indicated by actual performance.

%e should be struck by the meagreness of the a)ailable data or experience in relation to the extent of rapidly ac*uired linguistic competence.

%e+re not going to get from our experience of associating words with features of the world and practices to the kind of linguistic competence we actually ha)e. /oreo)er$ we should note the creati)ity and compositionality of language. There seems no ob)ious limit on what we could say. 3rom a finite number of words and rules we can compose entirely new sentences. Once we ha)e e)en a modest competence in a language we can produce

and interpret ,i.e. understand others. sentences we ha)e ne)er heard before. 1adgers might howl when there is a danger in the en)ironment or gibbons gibber$ and in this sense communicate something about the world to their fellow beasts. Chomsky notes that full-blown language is not stimulus dependent in this way. &uman language can be produced independently of en)ironmental stimuli or the occurrence of certain internal states. &ow to explain these facts about human language? Commonality of basic grammatical structures. ;ni)ersal grammar Innate hard-wired knowledge or capacity to de)elop linguistic competence in general ,i.e. in any language.. "anguages share a common <deep structure+. The particular form of an indi)idual language presents the infant with a particular set of data. The innate capacity enables the child to map the surface features of 0nglish$ =apanese or whate)er onto the deep grammar. # child can thus manage to construct a grammatical model which enables her to interpret and produce sentences in the language.