[percy-l] language theory

Karey L. Perkins karey at charter.net
Thu Feb 26 10:21:47 EST 2004

Mike, et al --

Thanks so much for this, Mike.  I've ordered Deacon's and Deledalle's books
(you've mentioned Deledalle in the past), as well as several other ones on
language evolution/origin of language, mostly collections of essays that
would provide a diversity of perspectives, that seemed like they might
provide a good background for what's happening in this area now:

--Approaches to the Evolution of Language:  Social and Cognitive Bases
(James Hurford, ed.)
--The Transition to Language (Oxford Linguistics) [conference proceedings]
--Language Evolution [Christiansen, ed.] (This is the one you refer to
below, I believe)
--Human Language and Our Reptilian Brain: The Subcortical Bases of Speech,
Syntax and Thought (Perspectives in Cognitive Neuroscience) (I'm assuming
this will be above my head, but Percy would probably have read it and
understood it)
--The Evolutionary Emergence of Language:  Social Functions and the Origins
of Linguistic Form (Chris Knight, ed.)
--The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (Pinker -- I ordered
this only because it seems that he should be read, he's so big in the field)
--Foundations of Language:  Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution (Jackendoff)

What do you think?  Some of these were mentioned in the July 15 2003
Nicholas Wade New York Times article, "Early Voices: The Leap to Language"
that I had forwarded to the list a while back, that sort of reviewed new
developments/books in the area.   If you know of any of these, or would
recommend one over another, let me know.  It's a great area, new
developments seem to abound, and it does relate to what Percy was doing --
not all of what he was doing, but some of what he had mentioned.

I too joined the Peirce list in search of more enlightenment on Peirce, as
well as symbol/sign, and those guys are really good -- too good for me!!
I'm not following all of it -- Peirce is very wide and deep -- but as I read
more of him/about him, I hope it will help.  I did print out some of the
papers at the Peirce site as well as the "Memes as Signs" one you had
mentioned so long ago...

I do not know "Lonergan" or "Minsky" but I hope I'll come across their names
in the process of this reading.  I couldn't agree more about
"postmodern-polluted academia"!!

Percy and Peirce both mention Duns Scotus (scholastic guy) in terms of
sign/symbol and realism, and I'm reading about him now.

Again, thanks for the input on this -- from my research on it, it seems not
many people are as interested in pursuing the language theory side of Percy
as the other sides.  Only 3 or so dissertations devoted peripherally to that
topic, only one devoted directly to it, and it seems the linguists and
semioticians and philosophers completely ignore him altogether (Why?
Because he's a novelist, so perceived as an amateur, not a professional, in
semiotics?  I don't know).  So I feel kind of like I'm shooting in the dark

Still struggling with the other question I had mentioned last time ("If
there is a physical/biological brain location for language (surely dyadic),
how is that this dyadic structure creates triadic thought? Aren't we back to
Descartes' dilemma of how a mind/body interacts?").  I didn't quite
understand Ken's answer:  ("More like we're already in it when we assume
that the dyadic and the
triadic happen in totally different contexts. Why not one is subsumed to the
other?  But can that be explained dyadically? No.")


----- Original Message -----
From: Mike Frentz
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Sent: Sunday, February 22, 2004 11:40 PM
Subject: Re: [percy-l] language theory


I'm sorry I really haven't gotten a chance to go back a re-look at our
earlier discussion. One of the key things that I had been impressed with was
Terrence Deacon's book, the Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language
and the Brain (1997). That is an excellent starting point for the state of
the art from one scientist's perspective a half dozen years after Percy's
death. Bonus is that Deacon is Peirce literate, as you'll see in his
description of icon, index, and symbol.

Googling Deacon's name I just came across this link on a book on Language
I haven't seen this book but it looks interesting at first glance. A PDF
sample was available which seemed small enough that I attached it (I got it
from the linked website of the softcover edition [reposted without
attachment]). Deacon has been saying for several years now that he has a
follow-on to Symbolic Species, called Homunculus, in preparation, but I
don't think it is yet out.

I also recall that there was some interesting material on genetic-based
language research about a year ago -- someplace in England I believe, but
I'd have to track it down.

>From my perspective, Percy seems to have come to grips with the importance
of the cognizance of self in forming judgments, which is a critical last
step in the understanding of knowledge (per Bernard Lonergan's approach in
"Insight"). Lonergan seems to have independently developed a "Percy-like"
perspective in this area, by my read (though there is no apparent
connection/citing by either to the other). Tekippe makes a comment in his
commentary on Lonergan ("What is Lonergan up to in INSIGHT?: A Primer") that
in order "to find an adequate stress on judgement, one must go back to the
medieval philosphers. Thomas Aquinas, in particular, places a strong
emphasis on judgment as the single criterion of truth." (p 122). Percy, and
a very small minority of only partially connected or disconnected others
(e.g. Peirce, Lonergan, Aquinas), seem to be adding something in coming from
a humanistic perspective that a purely scientic perspective (e.g. Deacon,
Minsky, Chomsky) seem to be oblivious of (which I attribute to the lack of
moorings and underlying, but apparently totally blind, agenda which appears
to be prevalent in current postmodern-polluted academia (not to mention mass
media). I think there is probably much in current scientific advances that
could add to the track that Percy was pursuing.

Just my blathering..


On Feb 13, 2004, at 9:21 PM, Karey L. Perkins wrote:

  This is addressed specifically to Mike Frentz, and generally addressed to
the vast and superior collective knowledge of the Percy listserv as a group:

  Several months ago (years?) Mike, you said, that much research/knowledge
had been done/gained on language acquisition and language theory since
Percy's death.  What is this, specifically?  I know the list has discussed
the FOXP2 gene.  Has more been discovered/explored?  What were you referring
to when you made this comment?

  I am continuing my exploration of Percy's language theory/radical
anthropology.  He seems specifically concerned with the "third element" of
the triad, the human self, and what is happening there: Among other things,
Percy  refers to the work of Norman Geschwind:  his discovery of a “recently
evolved structure, ‘the human inferior parietal lobule, which includes the
angular and supramarginal gyri, to a rough approximation areas 30 and 40 of
Brodmann’” (Message in the Bottle 326).  Percy elaborates on Geschwind’s
findings that this structure is not present in the macque, and only
rudimentarily present in higher apes.  It seems Percy WAS interested in
finding a neuro-physiological/anatomical correlate (as he discusses in this
essay in Message in the Bottle).  But I would venture to guess that much
work has been done since Geschwind.

  And here's a question to throw out to all:  if there is a
physical/biological brain location for language (surely dyadic), how is that
this dyadic structure creates triadic thought? Aren't we back to Descartes'
dilemma of how a mind/body interacts?



  An archive of all list discussion is available at

  Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy



An archive of all list discussion is available at

Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy

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