Expectations and Linguistic Meaning

University dissertation from Lund University Cognitive Science Kungshuset, Lundag√•rdSE-222 22 LUND [email protected]

Abstract: What is the relation between the words in language and our everyday actions? Are linguistic structures dependent on our actions, or does language function on its own? This thesis deals with the pragmatic foundations of language and proposes a model of meaning in language that is based on our expectations about the world and about other people. On this view, language is seen as composed of three functional layers of pragmatics, semantics and morpho-syntax, with each layer having a certain autonomy: semantics captures useful generalizations from the pragmatic level, and morpho-syntax captures generalizations from the semantic level. The thesis consists of an introduction and five papers that examine different aspects of this overarching model. The first paper explores what happens when individual cognitive structures are shared in language and proposes a model of how names, nouns and adjectives emerge as different levels of abstraction. Further, some cognitive prerequisites for referential communication are discussed. The second paper proposes a model of how breakdowns in an expert-novice task trigger discourse on the levels of instructions, coordinations and labels (words). These levels are correlated with a gradual conventionalization from pragmatics to semantics. The third paper shows how the modal verbs can be modeled in terms of expectations and social power. The fourth paper argues that meaning in language can be traced back to features of the environment of all living creatures that are inherently meaningful. Examples of such features are food, mates and shelter. The space of meaningful features can be extended by categorization: previously meaningless features gain meaning by association with meaningful features. The fifth paper, finally, uses computer simulations to model the pragmatic process of stabilizing a simple lexicon.

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