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Durham Emergence Project


Ontological emergence in language


Project Description

This project focuses on whether there are instances of strongly (ontologically) emergent properties within the grammatical derivational process that underlies all sentence creation. This draws strongly on recent work within the Minimalist incarnation of the Generative Grammar Programme in linguistics.

In particular, I am currently considering whether there are properties at the sentential level that cannot be accounted for within the theoretical structure posited within Minimalism. These properties would seem to be strongly emergent as they only appear once a certain level of grammatical complexity is reached – once the derivation proceeds to the CP (complementizer phrase). Without this complexity, sentences cannot have these properties. This is because these properties cannot be found at the lower lexical-semantic level, nor can occur without the requisite and specific forms of grammatical complexity.

Furthermore, these properties would seem to provide instances of downward influence in that the semantic content ascribed to each lexical item within a sentence will be directly affected by the existence of properties present only via complex grammatical structure. This project will explore whether such influence may be considered causal.

As well as potentially providing an empirically supported example of strong emergence, this linguistic evidence could have important consequences for how we understand the mind. Emergence within linguistics could provide an instance of ontological emergence in the mind that stands independent of: 1) debates surrounding consciousness; and 2) debates over the mind/body problem as there is no need to posit such emergent linguistic properties as ‘mental’.

Planned Attendance /Planned Research:

This project is based in Durham, and I will be attending all weekly project meetings, workshops, and summer schools based in Durham.