University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cambridge Linguistics Forum > The grammar of self-talk. What different modes of talking reveal about the language faculty.

The grammar of self-talk. What different modes of talking reveal about the language faculty.

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There is an ancient debate about whether language is an instrument for thought or for communication. I argue that the distinction is misleading, and that language is an integral part of both, human-specific thought and communication. The argument is based on the growing consensus that grammatical knowledge – a hallmark of human language – encompasses not only the propositional content of an utterance but also its communicative content. If communicative content is regulated by grammatical knowledge, then it follows that communication is as much a function of language as thought is. I here adopt Wiltschko’s 2021 proposal according to which the grammar of interaction consists of 3 layers: a speaker-oriented grounding layer, an addressee-oriented grounding layer and a response layer. In this talk I use restrictions on self-talk to show that indeed grammatical knowledge regulates communication and that the interactional structure captures these restrictions straightforwardly. Holmberg 2010 shows that there are two different modes of self-talk: I-centered self-talk (I can do this) and you-centered self-talk (You can do this). These two modes of self-talk come with different grammatical restrictions. What sets apart I-centered self-talk from you-centered self-talk is the presence of this addressee role: I-centered self-talk is a way of thinking out loud and thus lacks the addressee role, you-centered self-talk is a conversation with oneself and thus the addressee role is present. According to this analysis, you-centered self-talk is more complex than I-centered self-talk. This provides us with an empirical argument for the view that the addressee-role is generated higher than that of the speaker role. Evidence that the addressee-role is a grammatical construct (and not only a pragmatically constructed speech act role) comes from the fact that even in self-talk when the speaker is identical to the addressee the same constraints on the addressee hold as in other-oriented conversations. Specifically, one does not have access to the addressee’s mental state. Significantly, the same is true in self-talk despite the fact that one has access to one’s own mind. This demonstrates that grammar treats the Addressee as someone whose mind is inaccessible, no matter whether in the real world this mind is in fact accessible. Real world knowledge cannot override grammatical constraints. Finally, I show that other-oriented talk (i.e., regular conversations) differ from both modes of self-talk in the presence of the response-layer which regulates turn-taking. In sum, the goal of this talk is to show that self-talk provides us with a new window into the grammar of interactional language.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Linguistics Forum series.

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