What is Cognitive Science

Linguistic Conventions and the Problem of Lexical Innovation

Josh Armstrong

Thursday, September 13, 2012, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Philosophy

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Natural language semantics is often characterized as the study of the conventional meanings of linguistic expressions, and how they can be combined to determine the meaning of complex expressions. Donald Davidson argues that natural language semantics, so characterized, has little role to play in explaining the process of successful linguistic communication. This argument turns on cases of what I call lexical innovation—cases in which a speaker uses a sentence containing an expression for which no meaning has been conventionally established, but nevertheless successfully communicates her intended meaning to her audience.  In this talk, I develop a dynamic account of linguistic conventions that addresses the problem raised by lexical innovations. The account holds that the conventions governing expressions and their meaning can be shifted to incorporate new word meanings or to revise the meanings of words already in circulation. Successful linguistic communication does not, according to my account, require speakers and their audiences to share prior knowledge of word meanings. Rather, it requires that the members of a conversation successfully coordinate on the meanings of words occurring in a sentence as their dialogue unfolds. The talk will conclude with some general remarks on the relation between semantics and pragmatics.

Josh Armstrong


"What is Cognitive Science?"

This lunchtime talks series is designed to introduce the University community to issues in Cognitive Science. Cognitive Science is one the the few fields where modern developments in computer science and artificial intelligence promise to shed light on classical problems in psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Ancient questions of how we see the world, understand language, and reason, and questions such as 'how a material system can know about the outside world', are being explored with the powerful new conceptual prosthetics of computer modeling.

The talks in this lunchtime lecture series are every Thursday during the Fall semester from ** 12:00-1:00 ** in the Psychology Building, Room 101 on  Busch Campus.

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