Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported primarily by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2016 Fund Drive.
Asuncion �lvarez, Universidad Complutense (Madrid)
This book deals with oratio obliqua or metarepresentation, the phenomenon by which linguistic and mental representational processes take as their object linguistic and mental representations themselves (i.e. as in "John thinks that I will come", as opposed to oratio recta: "I will come", or "John thinks: 'She will come'"). Its main premises are the following:
(i) metarepresentation has two levels: the content of the object-presentation (the representations metarepresentation is about) and the content of the metarepresentation itself. The metarepresentational content includes the content of the object-presentation;
(ii) the traditional view that the object-representation is "mentioned" or "opaque" rather than "used" or "transparent" in metarepresentational contexts must be rejected. Metarepresentations are "semantically innocent", i.e. they cause no change in the content of the object- representation, which remains "transparent". Thus "The Earth is flat" would represent the same state of affairs when uttered in isolation and when embedded in "John believes that the Earth is flat".
These two premises have rather far-reaching consequences for philosophy and cognitive science, which M. Recanati proceeds to discuss in the six parts of his book. The first half of the book consists of a general analysis of metarepresentational structures.
Part I: Iconicity. In Part I, M. Recanati discusses the notions of extensionality, innocence, and iconicity concerning metarepresentation. He argues that metarepresentational operators (the "John believes that" component in "John believes that the Earth is flat") are not extensional: the extension of an expression is not a function of the extensions of its parts. However, he argues that metarepresentations are both iconic and semantically innocent. Iconicity is the property in virtue of which metarepresentations contain the object-representation both syntactically and semantically. Semantic innocence is the property by which metarepresentations do not alter the content of the object-representations they include.
Part II: Simulation 1: Circumstance-Shifting. In Part II the author examines the theories which capture the iconicity of metarepresentation, distinguishing two groups among them: theories which argue that the content of the object-representation is a part of the content of the metarepresentation proper (among which he counts modal theories of metarepresentation); and theories which deny the existence of any difference between the contents of the object-representation and the metarepresentation, locating the difference between them in some other dimension, (among this group Recanati includes simulation theories, which see metarepresentation as a pragmatic function). M. Recanati, while acknowledging the usefulness of the simulation view, finds it however incomplete, and aligns himself with the first group of theories. His position is based on an analysis of cognition by which entities can be seen either in terms of their relations to other entities or in terms of their own properties. Thus, entities can be seen both "from outside", as simple entities, related to other entities; and "from inside", as complex micro-universes, containing other entities. This cognitive duality allows for simulation and world-shifting, which the author deems essential to his account of metarepresentation.
Part III: Opacity. Part III expounds the classical view of opacity or the quotational paradigm, held by Russell, Quine, and Frege. According to this view words in their normal use are transparent and serve to talk about some external reality, but in certain circumstances -- including metarepresentational contexts -- they are not used by mentioned, becoming opaque and no longer serving to represent reality. M. Recanati opposes this view as regards metarepresentation. He rejects Quine's account of unitary opacity, arguing for a non-unitary concept of opacity as a family of related but distinct notions, and introducing a distinction between cumulative and non-cumulative opacity.
The second half of the book discusses the notion of the contextual shift, by which the context with respect to which the object-representation is evaluated is distinct from the context with respect to which the global metarepresentation is evaluated.
Part IV: Context-Shifting and Oratio Recta. Part IV deals with the possibility of context-shifting. The author here studies in detail Kaplan's thesis that there are no context-shifting operators (i.e. no context-shift can be caused by some operator within the sentence). Recanati grounds his criticism of Kaplan on quotation within oratio recta (e.g. "John said: "The Earth is flat"", as against "John said that the Earth is flat"). Kaplan, Recanati believes, is wrong in postulating that in such cases the quoted material does not really belong to the sentence in which it is quoted. According to him, there is context-shifting in such cases, as there also is in non- cumulative opaque oratio obliqua.
Part V: Simulation 2. Context-Shifting as Pretense. In Part V, however, M. Recanati salvages Kaplan's thesis by revising it, relocating it within a distinction between circumstance- and context-shifting. According to Recanati's reformulation, the context may shift following a circumstance-shift, yet the metarepresentational operator only shifts the circumstance by which the internal sentence is evaluated -- not its context.
Part VI: Deference and Metarepresentation. Part VI is an excursus into the relationship between the context-shifting which underlies many natural-language phenomena and the more general cognitive ability of deference, which according to M. Recanati plays a central role in learning and theorizing. Recanati defines deference as the capacity by which, in Kaplan's words, we can "entertain thoughts through the language that would not otherwise be accessible to us" due to our imperfect mastery e.g. as when we "quasi-believe", that is, deferentially believe something which we don't quite understand because we trust our source of information. (Amusingly, one of the examples the author chooses to illustrate this with is the Lacanians' belief that the unconscious is structured like a language they are not sure what this means, but Lacan said so, and Lacan must be right. M. Recanati himself figures as having taken prominent part in Lacan's 1972 Seminar XX, so one must assume either that there has been a turnaround in his views on the subject, or that he now finds Lacan's followers distastefully servile.)
The book's main asset is the clarity of M. Recanati's style. He expounds his own views, as well as those of theorists he agrees with or attempts to refute (including Quine, Davidson, Russell, Frege, Barwise, Perry, Kaplan, Ducrot, and Sperber) with great simplicity and concision, avoiding the use of unexplained technical terms. Also, it covers a wide range of topics, from philosophy of language (singular terms, opacity and substitutivity, quotation), through modal logic (world shifting, context shifting) and discourse analysis (direct and indirect discourse, belief reports, fictional discourse), to cognitive science (simulation and pretense, the stages of mental development, deference). This last aspect is particularly intriguing, and one wishes the author had extended what he himself terms psychological "digressions", "sketchily argued for", to a more sustained discussion of mental development, fictionality, and belief. Despite this lack of digression, the wide range of the topics in Recanati's book, manifest also in the fact that it is based on previous papers on several interrelated topics, sometimes causes the thread of the main argument to seem lost. However, this very variety is also one of the attractions of the book, which is often fascinating in, and due to, the many aspects it touches on.
Asuncion �lvarez is a Linguistics graduate. Her research interests include philosophy of language and of mind, writing systems, and the relationship between linguistic and psychoanalytic thought.
D. Terence Langendoen, Dept of Linguistics, University of Arizona PO Box 210028, Tucson AZ 85721-0028 USA phone: 520-621-6898; fax: 520-626-9014 dept. homepage: http://w3.arizona.edu/~ling/ Editor, Linguistics Abstracts; Book Review Editor, Linguist List