[percy-l] language theory

Mike Frentz mfrentz_2 at comcast.net
Tue Mar 2 09:39:59 EST 2004


Sorry for the delay.  I routinely filter all of my Percy-l and Peirce-l 
stuff into one mailbox and given the volume on the latter (that I 
haven't kept up with at all, of late), I missed your message until now.

I'll be interested in hearing about the pearls that you find in your 
new library collection.  Speaking as one amateur to another (in the 
classical sense of the word, of course..) it seems as if you have a 
good survey -- though I have to admit I am not familiar with most, 
except possibly to recognize their names.  Others that I've been 
impressed with:  The Atoms of Language by Mark G. Baker (he's a 
Chomskyan, but I don't hold that against him), and I'm also fascinated 
by Michael Arbib (various papers and books), and Rudi Keller (A Theory 
of Linguistic Signs).

I find that the difficulty with this area is that it is so 
interdisciplinary (by virtue of its being so innate to being human, I'm 
assuming).  So many books, so little time.. I also agree with your 
supposition of Percy's reputation, but given the segmentation of this 
whole area, I think the implicit 'dissing' of others outside one's own 
area is probably not limited to Percy.  The linguists, semioticians, 
and philosophers are so busy ignoring each other that you'd think they 
wouldn't even have time to ignore Percy :-).

FYI, Lonergan was a Jesuit theologian (I try not to hold that against 
him, either :-), at his prime in the 1940's-70's, who stumbled into the 
area of cognition after doing an eleven year study of Aquinas and 
realizing how intertwined Aquinas' work was with human 
psychology/cognition.  To that point of view, he is an even more 
contemporary researcher mining the scholastics (who have also endured 
their share of 'dissing' in turn) than Peirce was .  I also lean a bit 
more towards Aquinas vs Scotus now, as a result.

Minsky is one of the legends of the MIT-instantiations/institution of 
Artificial Intelligence.  Very good 'disser', I might add..

I'm not quite sure how to answer your dyadic/triadic question.  I 
struggle with it, as well.  Needless to say, there have been many much 
smarter than me who've tackled it and lost.  The way I like to think 
about it is that certain things are irreducibly triadic, e.g. 
tool-making:  I'm riding my bike through the woods when the bolt 
holding the pedals opposite each other works itself out (because it has 
lost the nut).  I can't pedal without reinserting the bolt (and it 
needs to be forcibly inserted).  I have a goal that I want to 
accomplish (reinserting the bolt), I have a set of objects within my 
grasp that I could readily employ (hands, pocket knife, sticks, rocks, 
whatever else is around), and I have a role that I want it to play (in 
this case, as a hammer).  This goal, the object employed, and the role 
in which it is employed are a triad, corresponding to Peirce's 
Interpretant, Object, and Representamen.  Depending on which two of the 
triad are available (e.g. goal and object) you are deriving the third 
(e.g. role for the object to adopt).  Depending which two you have, you 
get a specific type of reasoning (in the toolmaking case, it is 
inductive).  Approaching from the other two directions gives you 
deductive or abductive reasoning (deductive, would be following a trail 
marker that someone had set up -- you have a role, and an object and 
are deriving a goal).  It kind of works for me, but it's also very 
difficult to parse these labels correctly sometimes, as well.  
Something about being too near to the problem, I think.  There are also 
definite analogues between the linguistic and physical domains, it 
would appear.


On Feb 26, 2004, at 10:21 AM, Karey L. Perkins wrote:

> 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 sometimes.
> 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.")
> Karey
> ----- 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
> Karey,
> 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 Evolution.
> http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-924483-9
> 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..
> Best,
> Mike
> 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?
> Karey
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at 
> http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy/hypermail
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> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at 
> http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy/hypermail
> Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at 
> http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy/hypermail
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