chapter  6
22 Pages

Language

Language is for representing the world, not only to others in communication, but also to ourselves in thought. For instance, the words “President of the United States” represent, or stand for, the elected official who lives in the White House. The folk conception of such naturally occurring languages as English (as opposed to the artificial languages devised by logicians and computer scientists) seems to be that the main function of linguistic representations is to enable the communication of thoughts, beliefs, suspicions, and other mental states. For instance, if your doctor states, “You have high blood pressure,” he or she may be trying to convey a belief about your health. If this folk conception of language is correct, then cases like this one involve the translation of a mental representation, probably a sequence of neural events, into an external representation (whose vehicle is a set of pressure-waves) and back again into a mental representation (yours). There are, of course, many other vehicles of linguistic representation aside from pressure waves. Languages can be written, gestured, or encoded in the form of a texture, as in Braille.