chapter  8
26 Pages

Language and Other Cognitive Systems

WithNoam Chomsky

The study of language is central to both kinds of inquiry: to traditional philosophy and psychology, which constitute a significant part of the history of Western thought, and to contemporary scientific inquiry into human nature. A typical formulation is Leonard Bloomfield's definition of "language" as "the totality of utterances that can be made in a speech community," the latter another abstract entity, assumed to be homogeneous. Acquiring a language is less something that a child does than something that happens to the child, like growing arms rather than wings, or undergoing puberty at a certain stage of maturation. If language could be construed in terms of dispositions to behavior or if knowledge of language could be taken to be an ability to speak and understand, then the concept of "behavioral science" might be more appropriate. Descartes's problem is illustrated by the creative aspect of language use, but is much broader, having to do with free choice and action more generally.