This is my last post of the year. I’m taking Christmas and New Year’s weekends off, so barring some unexpected heaven knows what, I’ll be silent. I thought I go out with a list of hypotheses that I’d like to see tested
This blog disagrees with mainstream linguistics in a fundamental way by having a functional definition of meaning. For most people meaning is a bit mysterious. It seems to be some kind of content that is passed from speaker to listener, but all sorts of paradoxes appear when you investigate that idea closely. Meaning becomes as mysterious as mind. On this blog, the meaning of words comes from their ability to pilot the attention of both the speaker and listener (Thanks to Giorgio Marchetti for that insight.), and the meaning of sentences comes from a series of focused points of attention (provided by words) that create a perception. In short, language is perception by other means. This view of language and meaning has left me with a different question from many other people who ask how language began.
I want to know how the ability to pilot one another’s attention began and developed, while many people want to know how we came to have the ability to express and understand strings that carry meaning. Thus, many of the technical questions that underlie orthodox quests for language origin have no testable answers. For example, the question of how we evolved a parser that lets us interpret a sentence is stymied by the fact that we have no idea how said parser works in the brain. Thus, orthodox researchers are forced to fall back on assertions that the parser did evolve and shrugged shoulders over what kind of system must exist to transfer these meanings. It is very rare to see theories of meaning that are specific enough to allow for hypotheses that let us get into the brain and see if the structures are there and how they differ from non-human brains.
It occurs to me that I’m in a different position. I don’t have a mysterious definition of meaning, so I ought to just lay out a series of hypotheses about how this non-mysterious power arose, and suggest what might be sought in order to disprove the hypothesis. So here is my list of what I’d like to see tested.