Unfortunately, Ronnie Cann has had to cancel this lecture due to medical reasons.
This week’s LangSoc lecture will be given by Edinburgh’s own Ronnie Cann! His talk is titled ‘Doing Language’, and his abstract is as follows:
A characteristic feature of human language is it can be used to refer to situations, objects and other things that are not in the immediate context of an utterance. On the other hand, certain aspects of an utterance, written or spoken, depend for their interpretation on the context in which the utterance occurs. Expressions like here, now, she, that person depend on the context to identify what is meant while the import of clauses like ‘It’s hot in here’ or ‘I’ve got a headache’ depend on the social situation of the speakers and the situations they are engaged in for their precise interpretation. But context dependence goes beyond the use of demonstratives and the implication of additional meanings above and beyond what is said.
Human languages are all notoriously vague, with expressions characteristically only being partially expressive of a concept that we can nevertheless readily use and understand. As any cursory look at ‘real’ natural language data makes clear, whether spoken or written, languages display an endemic sensitivity to context so that meanings, intentions, and other information that they can convey may never be fully fixed despite our intuitions as users. This lack of fixed interpretations results, at least in part, from the fact that languages are inherently dynamic both in use and in intrinsic structure; and it is the underlying presumption that our language provides us with a ‘practice’ or process that allows us to exploit inherent context sensitivity for effective and generally efficient use of linguistic resources in acts of communication, even with ourselves. Notoriously, however, neither the property of context dependence nor that of dynamicity is adequately addressed by current theories of grammar.
In so far as any concept of context is defined, it is presumed to be relevant only within semantics, the theory of meaning; and any expression of dynamicity within the grammar is excluded in principle. In this talk, I argue, to the contrary, that both are central to understanding natural language in general and the grammatical properties of particular languages. Accordingly, I shall argue, the current view that languages are analysable as context independent objects is untenable and that a radical rethink of current approaches to grammatical theory is necessary if we are ever to understand the nature of human language.
Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.
Doors at 18:00 for a 18:15 start — Wednesday 9 March — Appleton Tower LT4.
Join us at Usher’s afterwards!