DS-2012-03: Models of Language: Towards a practice-based account of information in natural language

DS-2012-03: Lotero, Edgar José Andrade (2012) Models of Language: Towards a practice-based account of information in natural language. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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This thesis is concerned with two models of linguistic information. It
does not deal with a development of the formal (or technical)
characteristics of these models, but rather it inquires into their
philosophical presuppositions. One such model is the one provided by
the discipline known as formal semantics; the other one is based on a
particular account of the role of signs in our practices. The main
purpose is to argue for the thesis that the latter, and not the
former, provides us with promising tools to represent a representative
fragment of the information carried by language.

The main criterion that I shall use to substantiate the thesis is the
following: I stipulate that any model of language should preserve our
descriptions of our uses of signs in general, and language in
particular, in everyday life. With this criterion at hand I carry out
the assessment of formal semantics on the basis of two arguments: `the
case of rules of language' and `the case of incomplete
understanding'. Such arguments show that the formal semanticist's
model does not preserve our descriptions of language-use in everyday

To introduce my alternative, practice-based model I appeal to the
following way of conceptualizing information: what does a 10 Euro bill
stand for? And if we did manage to find out what it stands for, would
the relation between the bill and this mysterious referent account for
how the bill is meaningful to us? Instead of going down this rabbit
hole, I take it that a 10 Euro bill is only meaningful because of the
role that it plays in people's everyday transactions. For instance, a
10 Euro bill can be used by someone to pay for a cappuccino, it could
be the change received after buying a beer, it could be a child's
monthly contribution to the piggy bank, etc. In short, the role of
signs in our everyday practices accounts for many of our concepts.

I believe that a semantic theory can profitably make use of the
following elements: (a) a theory of practices, in particular, I will
make use of Schatzki's theory of social practices; (b) an account of
the role that words and expressions play in practices, which can be
derived from the above-mentioned theory of practices; (c) an account
of how these roles underwrite the speaker's ability to comprehend and
produce words; and (d) an account of literal meanings.

If my arguments are sound, they will show that an explanation of
linguistic information requires taking the notion of a practice into
account. To be sure, such picture requires a radically different
account of language, linguistic competence, and linguistic
communication, but I believe these alternative accounts provide us
with promising tools to study our `human world' and our `human
nature', in which language is paramount.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2012-03
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2012
Subjects: Language
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2109

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