1st Edition

Language, Mind, and Power Why We Need Linguistic Equality

By Daniel R. Boisvert, Ralf Thiede Copyright 2020
    202 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    202 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Language is a natural resource: Power and vulnerability are associated with access to language, just as to food and water. In this new book, a linguist and philosopher elucidate why language is so powerful, illuminate its very real social and political implications, and make the case for linguistic equality—equality among languages and equality in access to/knowledge of language and its use—as a human right and tool to prevent violence and oppression. Students and instructors will find this accessible, interdisciplinary text invaluable for courses that explore how language reflects power structures in linguistics, philosophy/ethics, and cognitive science/psychology.


    List of Figures

    List of Tables




    A World without Words? Language and linguistic equality

    Language, Mind, and Power

    Language as a Natural Resource

    Depletion and Preservation

    PART I

    Language and Mind

    1 Profile of an Alpha(bet) Predator

    Entropy and Cooperation

    DNA and Philosophy: Unambiguous Information?

    Interpreting Single-signal Communication Systems: Cooperation and co-option

    The Cognitive Arms Race: Combinatorial communication systems

    Creative Cooperation and Violence: Human language

    In a class by itself: A hierarchical combinatorial system

    The Neural Architecture of Universal Grammar

    Language Between Brains

    2 Thinking Animals

    Rich Concepts

    Brain-states and Reflexes

    Concepts of Objects and Events

    More Complex Capacities

    Remembering and Analyzing

    Comparing and Synthesizing

    Imagining and Planning

    Social Cognition

    Conventionalizing and Imitating

    Joint Attention and Theory of Mind

    Collective Intentionality

    3 The Narrating Brain

    Cognitive Control through Language

    Language-imposed Telic Apperception: Schemata and scripts

    The Predictive Power of Narrative Computing

    Setting the Parameters of Narrative Computing: Framing

    Narrative Cooperative Computing: Story time


    Language and Power

    4 Doing Things with Words

    Speech Acts

    Distinction 1: Types of speech acts

    Distinction 2: Types of linguistic purpose

    Distinction 3: Performing illocutions directly or indirectly

    The Three Distinctions in Action

    Conversational Implicature

    Sentence Meaning vs. Speaker Meaning

    Conventional vs. Conversational Implicature

    Contemporary Pragmatics

    5 The Language of Cooperation

    Three Levels of Linguistic Processing and Cooperation

    Level 1: Negotiating syntactic structures and functions

    Level 2: Literal interpretation: Negotiated sentence meaning

    Level 3: Extended interpretation: Negotiated implicatures

    Coming Together: Harnessing the cooperative nature of language

    6 The Language of Violence

    Genocide and Politicide

    Ten Stages of Genocide


    Content and Context of Genocidal Language

    Sexual Assault

    Linguistic Dispositions, Content, and Context


    7 Clarity from Managed Confusion

    Cooperation Towards Understanding

    The Need for Managed Confusion

    Linguistic Information Management Strategies

    Keeping Track of Proforms

    Ordering Constituents

    Information Management: Chaining Given and New

    Clarity as Alignment with Audience Needs: The Example of Definitions

    Masters of Managed Confusion: Famous Authors

    Language, Logic, Predictability, and Event Model

    ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway

    ‘The International Eisteddfod’ by Dylan Thomas

    Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

    Oh Say Can You Say by Dr. Seuss

    A Collaborative Dance, but the Author Leads


    Standards and Shibboleths

    Illiteracy and Aliteracy

    Contaminated Language

    Uncooperative Language



    Daniel R. Boisvert is Senior Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His main areas of research are philosophy of language and ethics, especially their intersections and relations to broader issues in philosophy of mind and logic. He has authored or co-authored articles that have appeared in outlets such as Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, The Philosophical Quarterly, and The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language.

    Ralf Thiede is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research interests include interfacing formal linguistics and cognition, including brain development. His book Children’s Literature, Brain Development, and Language Acquisition appeared with Routledge (2019).