Abstract Ruth Kempson 11 December 2019

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Title: Language as a Tool for Interaction: Establishing the Background for an Account of Language Evolution.


T​his talk lays the background for addressing language evolution by looking at the meaning end of things, how we interactively build up information together in natural conversational dialogue, and what this tells us about what knowing a language amounts to. I will start from setting out the dynamics of informal conversational exchange which constitute a major challenge for conventional grammars, then give just a sufficient sketch of Dynamic Syntax to show how modelling language as a set of procedures inducing incremental context-relative growth of information, this being the “grammar” of the language, uniquely captures these conversational-exchange dynamics (Kempson et al 2016, Kempson & Gregoromichelaki 2019). From there, I will argue that not only is this approach confirmed by its natural fit within a general actionist cognitive perspective (M.L.Anderson 2014, A.Clark 2017, Bruineberg & Rietveld 2019, Heyes 2019), but also that it promises to fill a niche within theories of evolution in which both groups and individuals function as primitives (Wilson 2019). The central argument for this will be a vector space model that allows us to see words as having intrinsic flexibility of meaning (Purver et al forthcoming), for it is this move which enables us to give substance to the view that language is an adaptive tool for drawing together groups of arbitrary size.