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Article

Michael Ramscar

Healthy aging is associated with many cognitive, linguistic, and behavioral changes. For example, adults’ reaction times slow on many tasks as they grow older, while their memories, appear to fade, especially for apparently basic linguistic information such as other people’s names. These changes have traditionally been thought to reflect declines in the processing power of human minds and brains as they age. However, from the perspective of the information-processing paradigm that dominates the study of mind, the question of whether cognitive processing capacities actually decline across the life span can only be scientifically answered in relation to functional models of the information processes that are presumed to be involved in cognition. Consider, for example, the problem of recalling someone’s name. We are usually reminded of the names of friends on a regular basis, and this makes us good at remembering them. However, as we move through life, we inevitably learn more names. Sometimes we hear these new names only once. As we learn each new name, the average exposure we will have had to any individual name we know is likely to decline, while the number of different names we know is likely to increase. This in turn is likely to make the task of recalling a particular name more complex. One consequence of this is as follows: If Mary can only recall names with 95% accuracy at age 60—when she knows 900 names—does she necessarily have a worse memory than she did at age 16, when she could recall any of only 90 names with 98% accuracy? Answering the question of whether Mary’s memory for names has actually declined (or improved even) will require some form of quantification of Mary’s knowledge of names at any given point in her life and the definition of a quantitative model that predicts expected recall performance for a given amount of name knowledge, as well as an empirical measure of the accuracy of the model across a wide range of circumstances. Until the early 21st century, the study of cognition and aging was dominated by approaches that failed to meet these requirements. Researchers simply established that Mary’s name recall was less accurate at a later age than it was at an earlier one, and took this as evidence that Mary’s memory processes had declined in some significant way. However, as computational approaches to studying cognitive—and especially psycholinguistic—processes and processing became more widespread, a number of matters related to the development of processing across the life span began to become apparent: First, the complexity involved in establishing whether or not Mary’s name recall did indeed become less accurate with age began to be better understood. Second, when the impact of learning on processing was controlled for, it became apparent that at least some processes showed no signs of decline at all in healthy aging. Third, the degree to which the environment—both in terms of its structure, and its susceptibility to change—further complicates our understanding of life-span cognitive performance also began to be better comprehended. These new findings not only promise to change our understanding of healthy cognitive aging, but also seem likely to alter our conceptions of cognition and language themselves.

Article

Game theory provides formal means of representing and explaining action choices in social decision situations where the choices of one participant depend on the choices of another. Game theoretic pragmatics approaches language production and interpretation as a game in this sense. Patterns in language use are explained as optimal, rational, or at least nearly optimal or rational solutions to a communication problem. Three intimately related perspectives on game theoretic pragmatics are sketched here: (i) the evolutionary perspective explains language use as the outcome of some optimization process, (ii) the rationalistic perspective pictures language use as a form of rational decision-making, and (iii) the probabilistic reasoning perspective considers specifically speakers’ and listeners’ beliefs about each other. There are clear commonalities behind these three perspectives, and they may in practice blend into each other. At the heart of game theoretic pragmatics lies the idea that speaker and listener behavior, when it comes to using a language with a given semantic meaning, are attuned to each other. By focusing on the evolutionary or rationalistic perspective, we can then give a functional account of general patterns in our pragmatic language use. The probabilistic reasoning perspective invites modeling actual speaker and listener behavior, for example, as it shows in quantitative aspects of experimental data.

Article

The differentiation of English into separate varieties in the regions of Britain and Ireland has a long history. This is connected with the separate but related identities of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In this chapter the main linguistic traits of the regions are described and discussed within the framework of language variation and change, an approach to linguistic differentiation that attempts to identify patterns of speaker social behavior and trajectories along which varieties develop. The section on England is subdivided into rural and urban forms of English, the former associated with the broad regions of the North, the Midlands, East Anglia, the Southeast and South, and the West Country. For urban varieties English in the cities of London, Norwich, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Liverpool, and Newcastle upon Tyne is discussed in the light of the available data and existing scholarship. English in the Celtic regions of Britain and Ireland is examined in dedicated sections on Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Finally, varieties of English found on the smaller islands around Britain form the focus, i.e., English on the Orkney and Shetland islands, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.

Article

Béatrice Godart-Wendling

The term “philosophy of language” is intrinsically paradoxical: it denominates the main philosophical current of the 20th century but is devoid of any univocal definition. While the emergence of this current was based on the idea that philosophical questions were only language problems that could be elucidated through a logico-linguistic analysis, the interest in this approach gave rise to philosophical theories that, although having points of convergence for some of them, developed very different philosophical conceptions. The only constant in all these theories is the recognition that this current of thought originated in the work of Gottlob Frege (b. 1848–d. 1925), thus marking what was to be called “the linguistic turn.” Despite the theoretical diversity within the philosophy of language, the history of this current can however be traced in four stages: The first one began in 1892 with Frege’s paper “Über Sinn und Bedeutung” and aimed to clarify language by using the rules of logic. The Fregean principle underpinning this program was that we must banish psychological considerations from linguistic analysis in order to avoid associating the meaning of words with mental pictures or states. The work of Frege, Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), George Moore (1873–1958), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1921), Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), and Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) is representative of this period. In this logicist point of view, the questions raised mainly concerned syntax and semantics, since the goal was to define a formalism able to represent the structure of propositions and to explain how language can describe the world by mirroring it. The problem specific to this period was therefore the function of representing the world by language, thus placing at the heart of the philosophical debate the notions of reference, meaning, and truth. The second phase of the philosophy of language was adumbrated in the 1930s with the courses given by Wittgenstein (1889–1951) in Cambridge (The Blue and Brown Books), but it did not really take off until 1950–1960 with the work of Peter Strawson (1919–2006), Wittgenstein (1953), John Austin (1911–1960), and John Searle (1932–). In spite of the very different approaches developed by these theorists, the two main ideas that characterized this period were: one, that only the examination of natural (also called “ordinary”) language can give access to an understanding of how language functions, and two, that the specificity of this language resides in its ability to perform actions. It was therefore no longer a question of analyzing language in logical terms, but rather of considering it in itself, by examining the meaning of statements as they are used in given contexts. In this perspective, the pivotal concepts explored by philosophers became those of (situated) meaning, felicity conditions, use, and context. The beginning of the 1970s initiated the third phase of this movement by orienting research toward two quite distinct directions. The first, resulting from the work on proper names, natural-kind words, and indexicals undertaken by the logician philosophers Saul Kripke (1940–), David Lewis (1941–2001), Hilary Putnam (1926–2016), and David Kaplan (1933–), brought credibility to the semantics of possible worlds. The second, conducted by Paul Grice (1913–1988) on human communicational rationality, harked back to the psychologism dismissed by Frege and conceived of the functioning of language as highly dependent on a theory of mind. The focus was then put on the inferences that the different protagonists in a linguistic exchange construct from the recognition of hidden intentions in the discourse of others. In this perspective, the concepts of implicitness, relevance, and cognitive efficiency became central and required involving a greater number of contextual parameters to account for them. In the wake of this research, many theorists turned to the philosophy of mind as evidenced in the late 1980s by the work on relevance by Dan Sperber (1942–) and Deirdre Wilson (1941–). The contemporary period, marked by the thinking of Robert Brandom (1950–) and Charles Travis (1943–), is illustrated by its orientation toward a radical contextualism and the return of inferentialism that draws strongly on Frege. Within these theoretical frameworks, the notions of truth and reference no longer fall within the field of semantics but rather of pragmatics. The emphasis is placed on the commitment that the speakers make when they speak, as well as on their responsibility with respect to their utterances.