Topic 2: Language and Languaging

[Back to the course overview]

Since the computational turn in the middle of the 20th Century, language became central to theories of mind and cognition. However the topic is rich enough to be approached from many angles.

Lecture 1: We introduce the topic, asking what language is good for, noting the relevance for both communication and thought, and we ask where language could have come from. We have more questions than answers here, and we examine and reject the idea that we might ever find a “gene for language”.

Lecture 2: A stroll through some of the subfields of linguistics: Pragmatics, semantics, syntax and morphology. We clearly distinguish between the abstractions of generative linguistics, and those aspects of language use that are tied to context.

Lecture 3: A broader stance introduces topics of animal communication, and my own field of Joint Speech.


  • This article by Theodore Dalrymple is relevant to many of the topics in this weeks lecture. It reminds us that although all languages may be have certain formal properties in common, the effectiveness of language lies not in its syntax, but in its use.
  • In his book, Seeing Voices, about the deaf, Oliver Sachs has some pertinent thoughts on the possible nature of thought without language. I have scanned in the revant Footnote 47. Just read the footnote.
  • The video linked in this post gives another perspective on alinguistic thought (thought without language), this time as considered by an autistic woman. It’s about 8 mins long, and thoroughly deserving of your attention.
  • There is much more about Joint Speech at, and you can even download a pdf of a book (by me) on the topic.