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Jon Hellevig
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Interpretation of Feelings

Speech and Language
Speech vs. Language
Language - Interpretation of
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Speech/the Ability to Speak vs. Language

The most important means for expression of feelings is speech, this is why I define speech as interpretation of feelings, although I need to point out that all symbolic means of expression (such as bodily expression, writing, forms of art, architecture) are forms of interpretation of feelings. I shall further in this book explain why I very much deliberately say 'interpretation of feelings' instead of 'translation of thoughts.' In this paradigm it becomes crucial to understand the true essence of speech and especially the distinction between speech and language. The ability to speak and speech acts are biological, material, phenomena, whereas language is a social practice, of which we form perceptions in abstraction. Up to this day this has not been understood in linguistics; and this has led to great confusion in the science when both the biological ability (speech) and the perceptual abstractions (language), which are formed based on the results of exercising this biological ability, are discussed as if they were one and the same. Most importantly we need to understand that speech corresponds to real physical acts of behavior which are enabled by the biological ability to speak. Speech and writing represent forms of verbal behavior. Language, however, does not correspond to anything physical or biological, and merely represents perceptual abstractions we form based on our experience of verbal behavior. I argue that this distinction has never been properly made, not even by Saussure who as a lonely thinker had an idea of the necessity to do it. (I will discuss Saussure's conception of the distinction in chapters Speech and Language and mainly in Notes on the Philosophy of Language). - The confusion and the problem that follows from it are well illustrated by a reference to Roy Harris. In my view Harris linguistic philosophy clearly represents the better of the contemporary traditions; therefore I turn to Harris to show how the confusion persists even on the level where these issues are best understood. Harris acknowledges that linguists face a problem with replying to the question: 'What is language'? (1998: 15). This problem is, according to Harris, due to the reason that "language involves at least three activities"; these he lists as: (i) "neural activity in the human brain," (ii) "muscular activity of the body," and (iii) "social activity." Harris then tells that these three activities are variously interrelated in different definitions of language. He stresses that whether one defines language as an activity or an ability (faculty) the problem remains. I shall note that, I have not discovered how Harris himself actually chose to define language, however, in this connection it is clear that Harris did not realize that the way out of the dilemma is to identify, on the one hand, speech as pertaining to the biological ability to speak and, on the other hand, language as the abstract perceptions we make of the social practice of speaking (social practice of verbal behavior; language practices). The activities that he identified as pertaining to the question are mutually contradictory and confusing when they are all taken to refer to 'language' – or, correspondingly, when they are all taken to refer to 'speech' - but when we settle for referring by the first two, (i) and (ii), to 'speech' (the ability to speak and verbal behavior) and by the third, (iii), to 'language' (the social practice), then the problem disappears. - With exercising the biological ability to speak we gain skills in the social language practices similarly like when we exercise the ability to run and kick a ball we gain experience in the social practice of football. - In the course of the work on this present book, I have noted that there seems to be in modern science in general a very serious problem of differentiating between what is a biological ability and what is a socially acquired skill which has been enabled by the ability. This particular fallacy amounts to one of the most fundamental fallacies on which Chomsky's erroneous theories are based. Thus, for example, Neil Smith says in the Foreword to Chomsky's New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (2007a: x): "Chomsky has long been famous (or notorious)" for claiming that "a substantial part of our knowledge of language is genetically determined, or innate. That something linguistic is innate is self evident from the fact that babies do - but cats, spiders and rocks do not - acquire language." – Naturally "something is innate," but what is innate and genetically determined is not "knowledge of language," but the ability by which we acquire knowledge, or more properly by which we gain experience and skills of language practices, or: interpret the verbal behavior of others and express our interpretations of feelings.



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© 2017 Jon Hellevig