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Review of Harris, The Language Connection While I was reading this book and becoming more exasperated by the minute, I learned that Roy Harris had referred to Chomskyan linguistics in a 1997 publication as "cloud-cuckoo-land," and I felt justified in being nearly as coarse myself at the outset of this review. But by the end of the book one finds that Harris is perfectly sane. After all, his earlier work was eminently sensible and even long overdue; I think especially of _The Language Myth_ (1981) and _Reading Saussure_ (1987). What Harris lacks is not sanity nor even brilliance, but simply knowledge of, or even distanced respect for, that concern of philosophy known as metaphysics. Although Anglo-American philosophy has labored long under the illusion that metaphysical questions can be treated as language questions (and thus join or at least sidle up to the natural world as "observables"), this has turned out to be a failure, and it is this failure that Harris unknowingly explores. Firmly seated in the house he is burning down, Harris regularly uses the term "metalinguistics" where we expect "metaphysics" and uses the latter term only in its all-too-modern dyslogistic sense, taking it to mean something like "mysticism." Here is Harris's position in a nutshell (and if it seems a bit sophomoric in the nutshell version you are welcome to buy and read the book). Speech is a human activity, wherein real speakers say real things to each other in various real contexts. But over the last 2500 years, both grammarians/linguists and philosophers have treated a language as a system which exists "all by itself," a system which speakers "use" when they produce speech. Thus the grammarian/linguist has his "words" and "sentences" and the philosopher has his "terms" and "propositions.Read more ›
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