What counts as explanation in linguistics? / Albertus Jacobus (Bertus) van Rooy
Van Rooy, Albertus Jacobus
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We have come a long way, and perhaps I lost some of you at some points in my argument, and failed to convince you at other points. I am sure that I need to flesh out and refine some of my ideas much more in the foreseeable future. To the extent that an inaugural lecture anticipates a research program, such elaboration is the task I set myself Allow me to offer a very brief summary of my story about the nature of language, and one last example, in which I try to apply my ideas to another poem. Apart from the physical existence of the medium of language sound, gesture or graphic marks on paper or computer screens language exists simultaneously as language in the mind of each speaker, and as E-language , an independent code that transcends individual human consciousness. Thus, I concur with Popper that language exists simultaneously in the physical world one, the mental world two and the abstract world three. Mediating between the external code in world three and the internal representations of language in world two are the functions that languages are called on to perform. These functions structure human interaction, and shape the evolution of E-language. At the same time, these junctions guide the internalization of language, and have their basis in subjective human intention. As such, I believe that functions become part of the entrenched meanings of linguistic units of whatever size and shape. Internalized representations of language probably display substantial inter-individual variation. By contrast, the external language is a regular structure, with much more gradual changes over longer periods of time. It is deeply hierarchical and contains intricate constructions that contain in themselves eons of evolution of which individual speakers need not be aware. Returning to the spatial view of E-language that was evident in the poetry of Achterberg and Gouws, you may think of E-language as an old European city, with buildings in many different architectural styles representing different stages of history. All these buildings together form an entity that allows for civilized human life to take place. A short history of nearly every linguistic theory of the twentieth century is one in which the usage-based, cognitive enterprise provides a very useful model of J language, and despite protestations to the contrary, formal theories like generativism and particularly Optimality actually model E-language. Functional theories, such as Systemic Functional Linguistics, get us the closest to proper explanations, to the extent that there is an awareness that function mediates between formal possibilities, that have their primary existence outside the individual in world three, and subjective linguistic competence, not nearly as idealised, in world two. I cannot resist one last example, a poem called "anekdoodte" from a volume by Jan Swanepoel entitled” By wyse van skrywe, "In a manner of writing", the full text of which is in the appendix.!(' To decipher this poem, we need to draw on I-language and E-language. Language is the medium of reflection, the tool one uses to prepare oneself for death, for coming face to face with God, thus working with I-language as tool. Substantial parts of the poem reflect on language at a meta-level, where prior text, aspects of our cultural memory are consistently activated. Language becomes a space, much like it was for Achterberg, that allows such contemplation, than enables it. This is exactly what I mean with E-language as something beyond the consciousness of the individual that underlies the possibility of I-language. It may well be very close to Derrida's archi-writing, that original difference as the possibility on which language is founded. I-language, as transient approximation, stands in contrast to E-language, perhaps as a transcendental space that can be explored. At the end of the poem, in spite of all the possibilities that arc made available by E-language, a single speaking persona, in one specific scene selects a single conventionalized and entrenched element from his I-language repertoire, to swear at death. However, the poem never allows us to separate the two worlds in which language exists very neatly. Even the title, an fusion of the Afrikaans word for anecdote, a piece of language, and death, a meaning, shows how the external, the system of words is never fully independent of the humans and their subjective experience and conceptualization thereof Thus, while linguistics is well served if the individual linguistic internalization and super-human code are kept apart as internal and external, with acknowledgement of their different intrinsic properties, the two can never exist without each other.