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The Instruction of Imagination: Language as a Social Communication Technology

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The Instruction of Imagination: Language as a Social Communication Technology
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  1 Review of: Daniel Dor, The Instruction of Imagination: Language as a Social Communication Technology  , Oxford etc.: Oxford University Press, 2015 Stef Spronc, University of !e"ven #$e deceptively si%ple, &"t radical idea at t$e centre of Daniel Dor's recent &oo The Instruction of Imagination  ( TIoI ) is t$is: experience is individ"al and non*lin+"istic. $at ena&les $"%ans to (atte%pt to) "nderstand eac$ ot$er's experience is i%a+ination, %ore partic"larly, i%a+inin+ an experience t$e conversation participant $as in %ind. #$e interpreter can only do t$is &ased on $er-$is own  individ"al experience. n order to &rid+e t$is /experience +ap', lan+"a+e serves to /instr"ct' i%a+ination t$ro"+$ socially constr"cted and, t$erefore, prescriptive %eanin+ and for% cate+ories. n perfor%in+ t$is f"nction, lan+"a+e is a tec$nolo+y in %"c$ t$e sa%e way as a $a%%er, writin+, or, in Dor's favo"rite si%ile, t$e nternet. nd lie all tec$nolo+ies, lan+"a+e $as &een developed in colla&oration and $as evolved to t$e extent t$at it perfor%s its dedicated f"nction &est: ena&lin+ $"%ans to instr"ct eac$ ot$er's i%a+ination in t$e %ost effective way. #$e i%plications of Dor's t$eory are s"rprisin+ly far*reac$in+: first of all, t$e idea t$at experience is extra*lin+"istic dispenses wit$ t$e notion of lin+"istically relevant (let alone, cross*lin+"istically relevant) co+nitive cate+ories. Second, t$e concept"alisation of lan+"a+e as a tec$nolo+y s"++ests a rat$er loose connection &etween %eanin+ and for%: a tool does not deter%ine its "se, nor does a f"nction f"lly predict a tool's s$ape: so%e "ses are si%ply &etter facilitated &y a tool t$an ot$ers (in Dor's words, so%e for%s present &etter /en+ineerin+ sol"tions' for instr"ctive co%%"nication). #$ese two i%plications &rin+ Dor into direct conflict wit$ two of $is %ost nat"ral allies: co+nitive and f"nctionalist lin+"ists. or Dor, t$e f"nctional specificity of lan+"a+e as a co%%"nication tec$nolo+y acco"nts for for%al si%ilarities &etween lan+"a+es, and t$ese si%ilarities %ay or %ay not &e related to +eneral co+nitive capacities or co%%"nicative +oals. "t $is cr"cial point is t$at t$ese correlations are not direct: lan+"a+es %ay arrive at co%%on en+ineerin+ sol"tions, and w$ere t$ese are partic"larly s"ccessf"l t$ey are liely to &e si%ilar across lan+"a+es (eit$er t$ro"+$ spread or independent innovation). "t for Dor, none of t$is re3"ires t$e ass"%ption of a co%%on concept"al &asis of lan+"a+e (concept"alisation is ac$ieved through  lan+"a+e, &"t is not a lin+"istic process itself), nor of a set of lan+"a+e independent f"nctional cate+ories. Dor lays o"t $is /social*tec$nolo+ical' t$eory in ten concise, exceptionally clearly ar+"ed c$apters, pl"s a &rief concl"sion. Startin+ wit$ a f"nda%ental criti3"e of conte%porary lin+"istics (4$apter 1, ntrod"ction), Dor states t$at non*4$o%syan researc$ers are still playin+ on 4$o%sy's c$ess&oard, since nearly everyone $as &o"+$t into t$e proposition t$at lin+"istics is a co+nitive science. ntrod"cin+ $is alternative view, Dor ar+"es t$at experience is a private %atter and, cr"cially, is non*lin+"istic. !an+"a+e allows t$e speaer to iconically represent types of experience, si+nallin+ /%y experience is of t$is typetry to i%a+ine' (p. 25), w$at Dor calls /instr"ctive co%%"nication' (4$apter 2, #$e f"nctional specificity of lan+"a+e). fter +ro"ndin+ t$e social*tec$nolo+ical concept"alisation of lan+"a+e in a +eneral se%iotic fra%ewor (c$apter 6, 7ow t$e tec$nolo+y wors), in c$apter 8 (Si+n and %eanin+) Dor fo%"lates a rat$er devastatin+ criti3"e of co+nitive lin+"istic approac$es to t$e lexicon, incl"din+ a pers"asive ar+"%ent a+ainst t$e co%%only $eld co+nitivist view t$at polyse%y is /ra%pant' in lan+"a+e. Dor's conviction t$at /9lan+"a+e is 9; not an episte%ic or+an 9; we do not experience t$ro"+$ lan+"a+e' (p. <8) also leads to a incisive re*eval"ation of t$e de&ate of lin+"istic relativity (c$apter 5, #$e spirals of relativity). n c$apters = and > (Prod"ction and co%pre$ension and #$e social a"tono%y of syntax) Dor presents a r"di%entary for%alis% for t$e t$eory, and for t$is reader t$ese c$apters were considera&ly less convincin+ t$an t$e precedin+ and followin+ c$apters. Dor does, $owever, ill"strate $is clai% t$at t$ere is no direct connection &etween individ"al co%%"nicative intention-f"nction and for% (p. 126*128) wit$  2 a very insi+$tf"l disc"ssion of word classes and f"nctional /co%petin+ %otivations' t$at $as t$e potential to refra%e t$e way in w$ic$ t$ese topics are de&ated in c"rrent f"nctionalist t$eories. 4$apter ? (#$e "niversality of diversity) taes ai% at 4$o%syan Universal @ra%%ar, followin+ Avans B !evinson (200<), proposin+ a %ini%al non*U@ set of lin+"istic properties t$at can  &e considered "niversal, and in c$apter < (c3"isition as a collective enterprise) Dor addresses a central 3"estion raised &y t$e clai% t$at lan+"a+e is not a co+nitive entity &"t a social one: $ow are t$e nor%s of lan+"a+e ac3"iredC 7ere, Dor's exposes a deeply political ass"%ption at t$e $eart of %"c$ lin+"istic t$eorisin+: t$e idea t$at t$e sa%e level of %asterin+ a lan+"a+e is ac$ieved &y all lan+"a+e "sers and e3"ally open to anyone. #$is leads to per$aps t$e %ost i%pressive c$apter of t$e &oo (c$apter 10 #$e evol"tion of lan+"a+e and its speaers), in w$ic$ Dor draws on $is extensive colla&orative wor on lan+"a+e evol"tion and presents an "nparalleled state*of*t$e art overview of t$is field. t several points in t$e &oo Dor concedes t$at t$e proposal is preli%inary and pro+ra%%atic, and in t$is readers view t$is is partic"larly tr"e for t$e for%al i%ple%entation of t$e t$eory. Dor s"++ests t$at every "tterance can &e represented as a /%essa+e ernel' of t$e type /SPAA47*4#(topic*entity)(event"ality)' (p. 10=). $ile t$is sc$e%atic representation %ay acco"nt for %ost referential and event related properties of lin+"istic %eanin+, it offers no cl"e as to $ow relations &etween %essa+e ernels (i.e. co$esive %eanin+s in disco"rse) can &e treated, or $ow non*referential %eanin+s s"c$ as stance cate+ories s$o"ld &e acco"nted for. Dor only %entions two s"c$ %eanin+s, ne+ation and %odality, &riefly on t$e fore last pa+e of t$e vol"%e, and descri&es t$e% as innovations &ro"+$t into lan+"a+e over t$e co"rse of its evol"tion &y /lo+ically %inded lan+"a+e "sers' (p. 21?). d%ittedly, %ost ot$er conte%porary t$eories of syntax str"++le wit$ disco"rse reference and %odality as well, &"t t$ese %ar+inal sidenotes on %odality E"st see% to fall s$ort in t$e face of Dor's a%&itio"s +oals of presentin+ a f"lly flexed t$eory of lan+"a+e. Unc$aracteristically, t$ey i+nore t$e ro&"st &ody of researc$ s"++estin+ t$at t$e correct "se of %odal cate+ories depends not E"st on lo+ical reasonin+, &"t on develop%ents in social co+nition (viF. ac3"irin+ an "nderstandin+ of perspective and false &elief). nd t$is o%ission is e%&le%atic for a %ore f"nda%ental "nresolved disc"ssion at t$e $eart of Dor's t$eory: t$e apparent paradox t$at on t$e one $and, "nderstandin+ rests on in$erently private, individ"al and "ns$ara&le experience, %ain+ %"t"al "nderstandin+ a near*Sisyp$ean tas, yet on t$e ot$er $and, lan+"a+e evol"tion and t$e conventionalisation of lin+"istic nor%s are driven &y a profo"ndly colla&orative effort. $ile Dor re%ars on t$e i%portant contri&"tion of lyin+ as a s$apin+ force in lan+"a+e evol"tion (w$ic$ re3"ires an assess%ent of t$e addressees nowled+e and anticipated interpretation, p. 208ff), $e does not explore t$e o&vio"s i%plication t$at t$e evol"tion of lan+"a+e %ay not $ave E"st provided t$e tec$nolo+y for attainin+ fra+ile "nderstandin+ across nearly "n&rid+ea&le +aps of experience, &"t also $ave pro%pted new ways of "nderstandin+ individ"al experience fro% %"ltiple perspectives. lon+ t$ese lines Gercier B Sper&er (2011) propose, for exa%ples t$at t$e (very private) a&ility of reasonin+ arose as a response to t$e dialo+ic necessity to wei+$ ar+"%ents in a conversation. lso, in positionin+ $is syntactic t$eory, Dor %isrepresents 4onstr"ction @ra%%ar &y definin+ it as /ta9in+ sentences to &e syste%atic %appin+s of t$e%atic roles onto +ra%%atical f"nctions' (p. 162*166). Since $e ar+"es a+ainst t$e existence of cross*lin+"istic t$e%atic roles and +ra%%atical f"nctions, t$is definition allows $i% to reEect constr"ctionist approac$es o"t of $and. "t t$e definin+ feat"re of constr"ction +ra%%ar is %erely t$at lan+"a+e %eanin+ and for% are constr"cted across a ran+e of different levels of +eneralisation a&ove and &elow t$e word. Dor's proposal t$at t$e %eanin+ of a constr"ction is E"st as %"c$ a lan+"a+e*specific social constr"ct as t$e lin+"istic for% t$ro"+$ w$ic$ t$is %eanin+ is expressed is in no way inco%pati&le wit$ t$at concept"alisation. n fact, Dor's adoption of a &asic parin+ &etween %eanin+ and for% c$aracterises $is t$eory of +ra%%ar as constr"ctionist itself. y failin+ to acnowled+e s"c$ potential lins wit$ existin+ t$eories, t$e tone of TIoI  is so%eti%es %ore anta+onistic t$an is warranted. or exa%ple, t$e lan+"a+e*specific nat"re of lin+"istic cate+ories, w$ic$ Dor appears to consider an innovative aspect of $is t$eory, $as &een de&ated in lan+"a+e doc"%entation, typolo+y and sc$ools s"c$ as ta+%e%ics for 3"ite so%e ti%e.  6 #$ese relatively %inor points %ay &e addressed f"rt$er as Dor's t$eory %at"res and develops, &"t t$e ric$ness of ideas Dor offers is extraordinary, and c$allen+es a &road spectr"% of received wisdo% in conte%porary lin+"istics. or +enerative lin+"istics, Dor presents yet anot$er case a+ainst U@, and provides detailed alternative explanations for iss"es ar+"a&ly %otivatin+ t$e +enerative pro+ra%%e (poverty of t$e sti%"l"s, t$e a"tono%y of syntax etc.), pl"s %any o&servations +enerativists do not c"rrently address. @enerative lin+"istics, $owever, can also &r"s$ off Dor's criticis% %ost easily on ideolo+ical +ro"nds, &y o&Eectin+ to Dor's definition of lan+"a+e and si%ply ass"%in+ t$at t$e t$eory concerns an o&Eect of st"dy t$at is different fro% t$at of @enerative @ra%%ar's. 4o+nitive lin+"istics and f"nctional lin+"istics cannot pla"si&ly reEect TIoI  wit$ t$e sa%e ar+"%ents, and Dor's i%plications for t$ese fields are t$erefore %"c$ +reater. #$e proposition t$at co+nitive experience and lin+"istic %eanin+ are f"nda%entally separate constr"cts, t$e one individ"al and private, t$e ot$er social, conventional and nor%ative, stries at t$e $eart of co+nitive +ra%%ar.  &elieve t$at %ost of t$e t$eoretical constr"cts and %odels of co+nitive +ra%%ar %ay "lti%ately not &e inco%pati&le wit$ Dor's analysis, &"t certainly re3"ire to &e partly or f"lly reconcept"alised if one accepts Dor's ar+"%ents. or f"nctionalist lin+"istics, Dor's view of lan+"a+e as a co%%"nication tec$nolo+y provides new s"pport for t$e very raison d’être  of f"nctionalis%, t$e view t$at t$e essence of lan+"a+e lies in co%%"nication. "t t$is s$ared orientation %eans t$at Dor's criticis% t$at f"nctionalis% $as not provided a tr"e alternative to 4$o%sy's definition of lan+"a+e partic"larly &ites. Dor's t$eory s$o"ld spar a new and excitin+ de&ate a&o"t t$e stat"s of f"nctional cate+ories. #$e ass"%ption of radical diversity also presents a c$allen+e to typolo+y, &"t one t$at t$e field $as &e+"n addressin+ for so%e ti%e. 7ere, Dor explicitly offers new pat$ways: wit$o"t t$e pres"%ption of "niversality, typolo+ical patterns in variation offer insi+$t into co%%on /en+ineerin+ sol"tions', and explanations for s"c$ (non*"niversal) co%%"nalities can "lti%ately only $ave f"nctional or co+nitive %otivations. inally, for sociolin+"istics, Dor's e%p$asis on t$e differences in individ"al predisposition for lan+"a+e and t$e dependency of societal str"ct"res in trans%ittin+ and expressin+ lan+"a+e, offers an opport"nity to inte+rate critical disco"rse analysis wit$ interactional and +ra%%atical analyses. y acnowled+in+ individ"al differences and &y reco+nisin+ lin+"istic creativity as a for%ative factor in lan+"a+e, Dor offers a fra%ewor for &rin+in+ to+et$er sociolin+"istic and psyc$olin+"istic approac$es wit$ %ore traditional exponents of str"ct"ralist +ra%%ar. Dor's f"nda%ental criticis% of conte%porary lin+"istic t$eories deserves a proper response fro% eac$ of t$e fra%ewors i%plicated, partic"larly t$ose in t$e co+nitive*f"nctional real%. nyone w$o Hlie t$is readerH wo"ld ro"tinely state t$at, e.+., polyse%y is t$e nor%, not t$e exception in lan+"a+e, or t$at lan+"a+e is s$aped &y co%petin+ f"nctional %otivations, s$o"ld enter into a constr"ctive de&ate aro"nd t$e ar+"%ents TIoI  p"ts forward, and t$e alternatives Dor proposes. f t$at $appens, t$e &oo $as t$e potential to lay a tr"ly new fo"ndation for a co%%"nicatively realistic and socially &ased lin+"istic t$eory. References Avans, I. B !evinson, S. 4. (200<), /#$e %yt$ of lan+"a+e "niversals: !an+"a+e diversity and its i%portance for co+nitive science', Behavioral and Brain Sciences   32 , 82<H8<2. Gercier, 7. B Sper&er, D. (2011), /$y do $"%ans reasonC r+"%ents for an ar+"%entative t$eory', Behavioral and brain sciences   34 , 5>H111.  
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