Communication and Language
Communication and Language
It is commonly supposed that the use of language in communication is its primary use. There is either nothing else that is language or anything else is an internalized version of outer speech. But in fact communication itself presupposes that language exists in another form and is not self-sustaining. First, communication is precisely the conveying of thought from one person to another, but this thought must exist in some symbolic medium, so it is required that sender and receiver share a language-like cognitive structure. Suppose I am thinking about a problem, talking to myself the while, and eventually I decide to communicate my conclusion to you: I say out loud “We had better take a left”. I have a thought and I attempt to transmit it to you, causing you to have the same thought; but this thought is in both cases a representational entity. Communication is the communication ofsomething, and that thing has to have properties that are encoded in communicative speech. It can’t be just unrelated to the speech act that conveys it; it must map onto the speech act, intelligibly so. Often, of course, it simply is an internal act of speech. The case is not like saying “I’m in pain” because that is not a case of communicating pain—I am not causing you to share my pain. But in communication I am causing you to share my thought, so my method must capture what is constitutively true of the thought; it must recapitulate the thought in some way. But what could this recapitulation be except a sharing of form? So a speech act of communication presupposes a prior instantiation of language in the mind of the speaker in the form of a thought. No communication without thought transmission, but also the transmitted thought must be alike in nature to the means of transmission; otherwise it is not communicated. If we regard language as primarily an instrument of thought, this is easy to understand: the internal language is simply translated into external language in acts of communication. But if we insist that outer speech is the only linguistic reality, we have trouble even explaining what communication is. For what precisely is it that gets communicated?
Second, speech acts require speech intentions. If I say, “It’s raining” I do so by forming an intention to say those words, just as if I raise my umbrella I form an intention to act in that way. So I have the intention to say, “It’s raining”. Acts of communication require intentions to make certain utterances. But those intentions embed a reference to language: you intend to say the words “It’s raining”—this is the content of your intention. That implies that language exists in your mind prior to the act of external utterance, so it cannot be the product of your external speech. Speech acts require speech intentions, but speech intentions make reference to language, so the former cannot be the basis of the latter. In order to learn to communicate with language we have to learn to have linguistic intentions, but those intentions are already steeped in language, so communication cannot be prior to linguistic intentions. To put it differently, communication requires linguistic plans, but linguistic plans involve the ability to use language internally, so we can’t hope to base internal language use on external language use, let alone deny the existence of any language use other than overt communicative language use. Even if language were primarily used for communication, that would still require that language exists in another form—in this case as embedded in intentions. And since communication is precisely the communication of thought, the alleged primacy of communication would still require that language exists in the form of thought. Thus we cannot derive from the primacy of communication thesis the claim that language has no other form, or that whatever other forms of language exist they must depend on the outer form. The far more natural thesis is that language is not primarily a means of communication, still less is it identical to outer speech acts, but that it has an existence that is independent of such public expressions of language. That is, there are inner instantiations of language, in both thought and intention, and these get expressed, contingently so, in acts of outer speech. Outer speech is consequential not constitutive.
 If you blanch at the word “intends” here, we can always replace it with something more neutral and sub-personal such as “directs” (cf. Chomsky’s “cognize”): the essential point is that the vocal system will include a preparatory phase of internal processing leading up to the actual utterance of the words determined on inwardly. Also, the usual strictures about implicature apply to using the familiar word “intends”, which I prefer: just because we don’t normally say that someone intends to say what they actually say doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.
 The idea that human language is identical to outer speech is well nigh universal in recent philosophy of language, though seldom explicitly stated, no doubt as a result of the prevalence of behaviorism. Yet it seems fairly easily refuted by the points made above. It is amazing what a stranglehold behaviorism has had despite its obvious weaknesses: it qualifies as an ideology and not merely a rational doctrine.
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