Words form a fundamental basis for our understanding of linguistic practice. However, the precise ontology of words has eluded many philosophers and linguists. A persistent difficulty for most accounts of words is the type-token distinction [Bromberger, S. 1989. “Types and Tokens in Linguistics.” In Reflections on Chomsky, edited by A. George, 58–90. Basil Blackwell; Kaplan, D. 1990. “Words.” Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume LXIV: 93–119]. In this paper, I present a novel account of words which differs from the atomistic and platonistic (...) conceptions of previous accounts which I argue fall prey to this problem. Specifically, I proffer a structuralist account of linguistic items, along the lines of structuralism in the philosophy of mathematics [Shapiro, S. 1997. Philosophy of Mathematics: Structure and Ontology. Oxford University Press], in which words are defined in part as positions in larger linguistic structures. I then follow Szabò [1999. “Expressions and Their Representations.” The Philosophical Quarterly 49 (195): 145–163] and Parsons [1990. “The Structuralist View of Mathematical Objects.” Synthese 84: 303–346] in further defining words as quasi-concrete objects according to a representation relation. This view aims for general correspondence with contemporary generative linguistic approaches to the study of language. (shrink)
The concept of linguistic infinity has had a central role to play in foundational debates within theoretical linguistics since its more formal inception in the mid-twentieth century. The conceptualist tradition, marshalled in by Chomsky and others, holds that infinity is a core explanandum and a link to the formal sciences. Realism/Platonism takes this further to argue that linguistics is in fact a formal science with an abstract ontology. In this paper, I argue that a central misconstrual of formal apparatus of (...) recursive operations such as the set-theoretic operation merge has led to a mathematisation of the object of inquiry, producing a strong analogy with discrete mathematics and especially arithmetic. The main product of this error has been the assumption that natural, like some formal, languages are discretely infinite. I will offer an alternative means of capturing the insights and observations related to this posit in terms of scientific modelling. My chief aim will be to draw from the larger philosophy of science literature in order to offer a position of grammars as models compatible with various foundational interpretations of linguistics while being informed by contemporary ideas on scientific modelling for the natural and social sciences. (shrink)
This paper attempts to describe and address a specific puzzle related to compositionality in artificial networks such as Deep Neural Networks and machine learning in general. The puzzle identified here touches on a larger debate in Artificial Intelligence related to epistemic opacity but specifically focuses on computational applications of human level linguistic abilities or properties and a special difficulty with relation to these. Thus, the resulting issue is both general and unique. A partial solution is suggested.
In this paper, I utilise the growing literature on scientific modelling to investigate the nature of formal semantics from the perspective of the philosophy of science. Specifically, I incorporate the inferential framework proposed by Bueno and Colyvan : 345–374, 2011) in the philosophy of applied mathematics to offer an account of how formal semantics explains and models its data. This view produces a picture of formal semantic models as involving an embedded process of inference and representation applying indirectly to linguistic (...) phenomena. The final aim of the paper is directed at proposing a novel account of the syntax–semantics interface while shedding light on empty categories, semantically null forms, underspecified content and compositionality as a whole. (shrink)
In this paper, I address the issue of scientific modelling in contemporary linguistics, focusing on the generative tradition. In so doing, I identify two common varieties of linguistic idealisation, which I call determination and isolation respectively. I argue that these distinct types of idealisation can both be described within the remit of Weisberg’s :639–659, 2007) minimalist idealisation strategy in the sciences. Following a line set by Blutner :27–35, 2011), I propose this minimalist idealisation analysis for a broad construal of the (...) generative linguistic programme and thus cite examples from a wide range of linguistic frameworks including early generative syntax, Minimalism, the parallel architecture and optimality theory. Lastly, I claim that from a modelling perspective, the dynamic turn in syntax can be explained as a continuation, as opposed to a marked shift, of the generative modelling paradigm. Seen in this light, my proposal is an even broader construal of the generative tradition, along scientific modelling lines. Thus, I offer a lens through which to appreciate the scientific contribution of generative grammar, amid an increased resistance to some of its core theoretical posits, in terms of a brand of structural realism in the philosophy of science and specifically scientific modelling. (shrink)
Linguistics as a science has rapidly changed during the course of a relatively short period. The mathematical foundations of the science, however, present a different story below the surface. In this paper, I argue that due to the former, the seismic shifts in theory over the past 80 years opens linguistics up to the problem of pessimistic meta-induction or radical theory change. I further argue that, due to the latter, one current solution to this problem in the philosophy of science, (...) namely structural realism :403–424, 1998; French in Proc Aristot Soc 106:167–185, 2006), should be viewed as especially enticing for linguists, as their field is a largely structural enterprise. I discuss particular historical instances of theory change in generative syntax before investigating two views on the nature of structural properties and eventually proposing an approach in terms of invariance :162–186, 2015) as a grounding for structural realism in the history and philosophy of linguistics. (shrink)
This article surveys the philosophical literature on theoretical linguistics. The focus of the paper is centred around the major debates in the philosophy of linguistics, past and present, with specific relation to how they connect to the philosophy of science. Specific issues such as scientific realism in linguistics, the scientific status of grammars, the methodological underpinnings of formal semantics, and the integration of linguistics into the larger cognitive sciences form the crux of the discussion.
In recent years, dependency grammars have established themselves as valuable tools in theoretical and computational linguistics. To many linguists, dependency grammars and the more standard constituency-based formalisms are notational variants. We argue that, beyond considerations of formal equivalence, cognition may also serve as a background for a genuine comparison between these different views of syntax. In this paper, we review and evaluate some of the most common arguments and evidence employed to advocate for the cognitive or neural reality of dependency (...) grammars in linguistics, psycholinguistics, or neurolinguistics. We then raise the possibility that the abilities to represent and track, alternatively or in parallel, constituency and dependency structures co-exist in human cognition and are constitutive of syntactic competence. (shrink)
This paper aims to unite two seemingly disparate themes in the philosophy of mathematics and language respectively, namely ante rem structuralism and inferentialism. My analysis begins with describing both frameworks in accordance with their genesis in the work of Hilbert. I then draw comparisons between these philosophical views in terms of their similar motivations and similar objections to the referential orthodoxy. I specifically home in on two points of comparison, namely the role of norms and the relation of ontological dependence (...) in both accounts. Lastly, I show that insights from this purported connection can address certain objections to both theories respectively. (shrink)
In their recent book, Ladyman and Wiesner (What is a complex system?, Yale University Press, 2020) delineate the bounds of the exciting interdisciplinary field of complexity science. In this work, they provide examples of generally accepted complex systems and common features which these possess to varying degrees. In this paper, I plan to extend their list to include the formal study of natural language, i.e. linguistics. In fact, I will argue that language exhibits many of the hallmarks of a complex (...) system, specifically a complex biological system. Thus, my aim is to advocate contra the the ‘Minimalist Program’ (Chomsky, The minimalist program, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1995), which motivates simple underlying mechanisms (i.e. Merge) in their idealisations, that biolinguistics should embrace a ‘Maximalist Program’ in which multiple subfields contribute component explanations to an emerging whole. (shrink)
In this article, I describe a novel position on the semantics of artificial intelligence. I present a problem for the current artificial neural networks used in machine learning, specifically with relation to natural language tasks. I then propose that from a metasemantic level, meaning in machines can best be interpreted as radically contextualist. Finally, I consider what this might mean for human-level semantic competence from a comparative perspective.
In this paper, I address a series of arguments recently put forward by Cappelen Review of Philosophy and Psychology 8: 743–762 to the effect that philosophers should not do formal semantics or be concerned with the “minutiae of natural language semantics”. He offers two paths for accessing his ideas. I argue that his arguments fail in favour of the first and cast some doubt on the second in so doing. I then proffer an alternative conception of why exactly philosophers should (...) continue to do formal linguistics which includes both semantics and syntax. (shrink)
The Covid-19 global pandemic had a profound effect on scientific practice. During this time, officials crucially relied on the work done by modellers. This raises novel questions for the philosophy of science. Here, I investigate the possibility of ‘natural models’ in predicting the virus’ trajectory for epidemiological purposes. I argue that to the extent that these can be consideredscientific models, they support the possibility of a continuum from scientific models to natural models differing in artifactual commitment. In making my case, (...) I draw from work on model organisms and natural experiments as well as recent work in epidemiology. (shrink)
This is a teaching guide companion to the main article published in Philosophy Compass. It offers insights into how one might go about designing a course in the philosophy of linguistics at advanced undergrad/graduate level. Readings and possible core questions are included.
Political philosophy has traditionally been defined as a normative discipline with a distinctively ideal component, largely informed by moral philosophy. In this paper, I investigate a prominent critique of ideal theory specifically with the goal of resituating the debate within a larger framework in the philosophy of science. I then mount a novel case for how ideal theory should be viewed in terms of scientific modelling. I close with a discussion of how this view can dissolve apparent paradoxes and provide (...) distinct advantages to the political theorist. (shrink)
What is a language? What do scientific grammars tell us about the structure of individual languages and human language in general? What kind of science is linguistics? These and other questions are the subject of Ryan M. Nefdt's Language, Science, and Structure. -/- Linguistics presents a unique and challenging subject matter for the philosophy of science. As a special science, its formalisation and naturalisation inspired what many consider to be a scientific revolution in the study of mind and language. Yet (...) radical internal theory change, multiple competing frameworks, and issues of modelling and realism have largely gone unaddressed in the field. Nefdt develops a structural realist perspective on the philosophy of linguistics which aims to confront the aforementioned topics in new ways while expanding the outlook toward new scientific connections and novel philosophical insights. On this view, languages are real patterns which emerge from complex biological systems. Nefdt's exploration of this novel view will be especially valuable to those working in formal and computational linguistics, cognitive science, and the philosophies of science, mathematics, and language. (shrink)
The philosophy of linguistics is a rich philosophical domain which encompasses various disciplines. One of the aims of this thesis is to unite theoretical linguistics, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of science and the ontology of language. Each part of the research presented here targets separate but related goals with the unified aim of bringing greater clarity to the foundations of linguistics from a philosophical perspective. Part I is devoted to the methodology of linguistics in terms of scientific modelling. (...) I argue against both the Conceptualist and Platonist interpretations of linguistic theory by means of three grades of mathematical involvement for linguistic grammars. Part II explores the specific models of syntactic and semantics by an analogy with the harder sciences. In Part III, I develop a novel account of linguistic ontology and in the process comment on the type-token distinction, the role and connection with mathematics and the nature of linguistic objects. In this research, I offer a structural realist interpretation of linguistic methodology with a nuanced structuralist picture for its ontology. This proposal is informed by historical and current work in theoretical linguistics as well as philosophical views on ontology, scientific modelling and mathematics. (shrink)
This volume brings together a diverse range of scholars to address important philosophical and interdisciplinary questions in the study of language. Linguistics throughout history has been a conduit to the study of the mind, brain, societal structure, literature and history itself. The epistemic and methodological transfer between the sciences and humanities in regards to linguistics has often been documented, but the underlying philosophical issues have not always been adequately addressed. -/- With 15 original and interdisciplinary chapters, this volume therefore tackles (...) vital questions relating to the philosophy, history, and theoretical interplay between the study of language and fields as varied as logic, physics, biology, classical philology and neuroscience. -/- With a four part structure, questions of the mathematical foundations of linguistics, links to the natural sciences, cognitive implications and historical connections, take centre stage throughout the volume. The final chapters present research related to the linguistic connections between history, philosophy and the humanities more broadly. Advancing new avenues of research, this volume is exemplary in its treatment of diachronic and cross-disciplinary interaction, and will be of interest to all scholars interested in the study of language. (shrink)
Linguistics as a science has rapidly changed during the course of a relatively short period. The mathematical foundations of the science, however, present a different story below the surface. In this paper, I argue that due to the former, the seismic shifts in theory over the past 80 years opens linguistics up to the problem of pessimistic meta-induction or radical theory change. I further argue that, due to the latter, one current solution to this problem in the philosophy of science, (...) namely structural realism, should be viewed as especially enticing for linguists, as their field is a largely structural enterprise. I discuss particular historical instances of theory change in generative syntax before investigating two views on the nature of structural properties and eventually proposing an approach in terms of invariance as a grounding for structural realism in the history and philosophy of linguistics. (shrink)