What is human language designed for?

November 15, 2023
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Starts at 18:00 (Moscow time)


Shigeru Miyagawa




There is a long-standing debate about what language is designed for. On the one hand, scholars such as Tomasello emphasize its social use for communication, while Chomsky, Hinzen, and others characterize it as representing human thought and its use as a communication tool is strictly secondary. In this presentation, I argue, based on a recent proposal for syntacticization of discourse (e.g., Speas and Tenny 2003; Krifka 2019; Miyagawa 2012, 2017, 2022; Wiltschko 2019) that at its core, language is designed for representing thought (the CP system), but syntax goes beyond that, with an extension that embodies representation of the conversational participants, to make language directly relevant for social interaction. In this way, the proposed theory bridges at least in part what appears to be a deep divide in the way the nature of language is viewed. I will give arguments from syntax as well as home and emergent sign systems. One surprising conclusion is that there is no need for linguistic input to trigger the critical period of language acquisition.