Language from the Ground Up: A Study of Homesign Communication

Erkenntnis 82 (3):693-714 (2017)
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Abstract

Philosophers are often beholden to a picture of language as a largely static, well-defined structure which is handed over from generation to generation by an arduous process of learning: language, on this view, is something that we are given, and that we can make use of, but which we play no significant role in creating ourselves. This picture is often maintained in conjunction with the idea that several distinctively human cognitive capacities could only develop via the language acquisition process, as thus understood. This paper argues that the phenomenon of homesign, i.e., spontaneous gesture systems devised by deaf children for the purpose of communicating with their non-signing peers, can shed valuable empirical light on these convictions. Contrary to grounding assumptions of Wittgensteinian, Gricean, and Peircean approaches to language, homesign shows how core properties of language—including semantic properties—can be built from the ground up in idiosyncratic ways to serve the communicative needs of individuals.

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Endre Begby
Simon Fraser University

Citations of this work

A Deranged Argument Against Public Languages.Robert J. Stainton - 2016 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (1):6-32.

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Philosophical Investigations.Ludwig Wittgenstein - 1953 - New York, NY, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. Edited by G. E. M. Anscombe.
Origins of Objectivity.Tyler Burge - 2010 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
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Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use.Noam Chomsky - 1986 - Prager. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.

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