Presentation on theme: "This module bears the name it does because it aims to introduce the conceptual and scientific context in which human language is studied. It does this."— Presentation transcript:
This module bears the name it does because it aims to introduce the conceptual and scientific context in which human language is studied. It does this by outlining the history and methodology of the study of languages and describing its connections with other science and language engineering disciplines. This lecture is introductory, and is intended as an overview of the material covered in the module. All the topics it raises will be revisited and discussed in greater depth in subsequent lectures and seminars.
The nature of science The word science comes from Latin scientia, 'knowledge', and in current usage refers to knowledge of the natural world, that is, of the world and the cosmos in which we live. It is often used as an antonym for arts and humanities by people who believe that knowledge of such things as literature, drama, music, history and so on is fundamentally different from scientific knowledge, but this view is simply mistaken. From the time that historical records begin to appear, and for a long time before that, humans have tried to understand the environment in which they lived partly as a matter of curiosity and partly as a way of controlling that environment. This attempt at understanding has taken two main forms.
The nature of science 1.1 Mythology The earliest attempts to understand the natural world took the form of mythology, that is, a system of narratives in which aspects of nature were personified as gods and goddesses, and the interaction of natural processes as well as human interactions with these processes were conceptualized as personal interactions among deities and humans. Religion was and is the ritual whereby humans interact with the gods in the hope of influencing them to provide, for example, good harvests or success in war. Mythology and religion have remained influential in human understanding of the natural world from prehistory to the present day, as the widespread contemporary allegiance to Christianity and Islam as well as to smaller religions attests.
The nature of science 1.2 Empirical science Empirical knowledge is knowledge gained by observation, and empirical science is therefore knowledge of the natural world gained by observing it. This differs fundamentally from mythology, which explains the natural world by positing a range of unobservable deities and interactions among them and with humans. Empirical science had its origins in the practicalities of everyday life, which require understanding of the properties of natural materials and how these can be used to create viable structures like houses and ships. We know that, by the time historical records begin about 6000 years ago, the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians had begun to think about and understand general principles governing aspects of their physical environment.
1. The nature of science 1.2 Empirical science By the 6th century BC schools of philosophy which attempted to understand humankind's place in the natural world without recourse to mythology had come into being in Greece. Plato and Aristotle are probably the best known of these philosophers. The most important advance in science at this time was in geometry. Geometry is based on human intuitions about the world around us: that we exist in a space, that there are directions in that space, that distances along those directions can be measured, that relative distances between and among objects in the space can be compared, that objects in the space themselves have size and shape which can be measured and described.
The nature of science 1.2 Empirical science The earliest geometries were attempts to define these intuitive notions of space, direction, distance, size, and shape in terms of abstract principles which could, on the one hand, be applied to scientific understanding of physical reality, and on the other to practical problems like construction and navigation. Basing their ideas on the first attempts by the early Mesopotamians and Egyptians, Greek philosophers from the seventh century BC onwards developed such abstract principles systematically, and their work culminated in the geometrical system attributed to Euclid (floruit c.300 BC). This Euclidean geometry was the unquestioned framework for understanding of physical reality until the 18th century AD.
1. The nature of science 1.2 Empirical science The science pioneered by the Greek philosophical schools of Antiquity was not seriously developed for many centuries. Christianity was dominant in the West throughout the period of the later Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, from about 300 - 1500 AD, and with it came a rigid orthodoxy that humanity's place in the natural world was to be understood mythologically. It was only with the advent of the cultural movement known as the Renaissance between about 1300 and 1500 that this orthodoxy began to be questioned. Intellectuals began once again to base their understanding of nature on observation of it. This was fiercely resisted by the Christian ecclesiastical establishment, but empirical science developed rapidly from the 16th century onwards and, by our own time, offers a highly-developed and ever-developing understanding of the natural world. Mythology remains hugely influential throughout the world, however, and is frequently antagonistic towards empirical science.
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science As science has grown, scientists have asked themselves what the best way of going about gaining an understanding the natural world might be. This has given rise to a branch of philosophy, the philosophy of science, which addresses issues like the following:
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science The nature of knowledge Epistemology is a long-established part of philosophy and, now, philosophy of science It is concerned with the nature of knowledge: what it is, how we acquire it, and what limits, if any, there are on what humans can know. These and related issues have been addressed by philosophers for millennia in a wide variety of ways, and thus far the results have remained controversial and often incompatible.
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science The nature of knowledge To grasp the essence of the problem, though, consider the human situation. As a species we have a particular set of senses by means of which we perceive the world around us and a particular brain architecture which processes sensory perceptions, and the result of this processing gives us knowledge of the world around us. The question is: is this knowledge of the world accurate, that is, do we thereby understand what the world and the universe at large are really like? Historically there have been two basic answers:
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science No We are the captives of the sensory and brain characteristics that evolution has given us, and our knowledge of the world must always by determined by and limited by that. Creatures with different characteristics perceive the world in accordance with them, and presumably cannot conceive of the world as we do. How does a worm or a salamander perceive the world? Or a dog? Or what if we had one more or one fewer senses, or our brains were larger / smaller / differently structured? On this view, we create our world and the knowledge we have of it, and will never understand how it really is. Some philosophers have even argued that what we take to be reality is an illusion which we are powerless to dispel; to get an intuition for this point of view, see the film The Matrix and the epistemological discussion at the end of the film Dark Star.The MatrixDark Star
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science Yes. Humans are able to transcend their species-specific sensory structure using instruments that give insight into natural phenomena beyond their perceptual range, such as telescopes and microscopes and large hadron colliders, and their species-specific brain structure using mathematics, which sufficiently extends human conceptual range.
1. The nature of science 1.3 Philosophy of science The methodology of science Assuming that science is worth doing, what is the best way of going about it, that is, the best methodology? The currently dominant methodology is the one based on the philosophy of Karl Popper, which is centred on the concept of the falsifiable hypothesis: - a research question is asked about some domain of interest, - a hypothesis is proposed in answer to the question, - the hypothesis is tested to see if its claims and implications are compatible with observation of the domain: if it is the hypothesis is taken to be confirmed as a valid statement about the domain, and if not it is taken to be falsified and must then either be modified so as to make it compatible with observation, or abandoned.
2. Linguistics and related sciences Linguistics, the science of human language, is embedded in a range of other sciences from which it borrows ideas and to which it contributes. Several lectures in this module introduce some of these sciences and show how they relate to linguistics. Thereafter, the focus shifts to a detailed discussion of the history, fundamental principles, and main subdivisions of Linguistics.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.1 Sciences related to Linguistics Neuroscience Neuroscience is the study of how the structure and dynamics of the brain control all aspects of human bodily function from basics such as respiration, heartbeat, and digestion to the higher cognitive functions of sensory processing, control of locomotion, reasoning, memory, language, and the sense of self-awareness called consciousness. This module will have a good deal to say about these higher cognitive functions, and about language in particular; because the brain implements these cognitive functions, the fundamentals of brain structure and dynamics should be understood.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.1 Sciences related to Linguistics Computer Science Computer science is the study of algorithms, that is, of instructions for transforming input data into output data in a systematic way: what algorithm can, for example, be used to translate spoken German into spoken English, or for finding Web pages on the Internet in response to user queries? Perhaps surprisingly, computer science is fundamental to contemporary understanding of mind, cognition, and language.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.1 Sciences related to Linguistics Cognitive Science Cognitive science is the study of cognition in general and of human cognition in particular, where 'cognition' denotes the various aspects of what is generally understood as the mind: sensory processing, control of locomotion, logic, memory, and, of course, language.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics History of the study of language Because it is the characteristic which most obviously distinguishes humans from other animals, there is a long history of human curiosity about and and attempts at understanding of language. The first evidence for this comes from ancient Greece and India from about 400 BC, and for many centuries thereafter there are indications of interest at different times and places in the world. Modern linguistics begins, however, in the late 18th century AD, when it was realized than most European languages and some Asian ones derived from a common ancestor called 'Indo-European'.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics History of the study of language This idea was developed in the course of the 19th century and, in the 20th, became the foundation for the academic discipline of historical linguistics. It was also realized in the course of the 20th century that language could be studied not only in terms of how it developed over time but also in terms of how it works, that is, of the cognitive mechanisms that endow humans with language. This, too, has grown into a well-established academic discipline pursued in universities worldwide.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics Language as a cognitive faculty Because the ability to use language is an aspect of human cognition, it makes sense to attempt to understand how it works in the context of the general principles of human cognition based on research in cognitive science, computer science, and neuroscience.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics Generative linguistics Generative linguistics is a particular approach to understanding the mechanisms of the human language faculty based on computer science and pioneered by Noam Chomsky in the 1950s. The work of Chomsky and his followers since that time has been and continues to be highly influential in linguistics, though it is not without its critics.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics Language change All languages change over time, and the study of that change is the domain of historical linguistics. This branch of linguistics began with the study of Indo-European, but has since been extended to include study of the cognitive and social factors which underlie language change.
2. Linguistics and related sciences 2.2 Linguistics Language and society The human language faculty evolved to serve the human need for social communication. Sociolinguistics is the branch of linguistics which studies language use in its social context, including such factors as the influence of gender, age, social class, and education level on language use as well as the exploitation of language for social and political control.
3. Language Technology Technology is the application of science to the design and implementation of artefacts which enhance intrinsic human capabilities, for good or ill. These artefacts constitute human culture, and the existence of this culture is in large part what differentiates us from other animals. A technology which has fundamentally influenced the development of human culture is literacy, that is, the technology which allows human language to be physically represented on a range of media. The final part of the module looks at the application of linguistic science in this technology.
3. Language Technology 3.1 Literacy Literacy is the ability to represent human language using a physical medium and to interpret that representation. Language so represented, known as 'text', is not synonymous with language: as far as we know literacy was invented only once in human history, in ancient Mesopotamia, and from there the invention has spread throughout the world. It has had a profound effect on the development of human culture, and it is arguable that a complex culture like the one in which we live is impossible without it.
3. Language Technology 3.2 Language technology 'Language technology' refers to the way in which literacy is implemented in a culture. It includes not only such obvious things as the script used to represent the phonemic structure of language and the media on which text exists, but also such factors as The means of document production and distribution (handwriting, print, electronic text, the Web) Educational institutions (social and political factors in access to education) Mechanisms of political and ideological control.
Readings for this lecture are given at the end of the full-text version available at the module website.
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