Arie Verhagen

22.–24. 5.


Arie Verhagen


  Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Odborné zaměření:
– Vyjadřování kauzality
– Intersubjektivita
– Konstrukční gramatika
– Evoluční lingvistika

22. 5. / 12:30 / č. 200 1. Human Cooperative Communication and Types of Linguistic Meaning
Human languages are relatively reliable, flexible, and cheap communication systems, compared to other signaling systems in the animal kingdom (Fitch 2010). The rarity (in a biological perspective) of this combination of properties is an indication of the fundamentally cooperative nature of human communication (Tomasello 2008), cooperation itself being a rather special phenomenon in biology. Moreover, the specific character of human cooperation in “joint projects” (Clark 1996, 2006) gives rise to a distinction between three major types of linguistic meanings: descriptive, deictic, and what we may call modal or argumentative meaning (negation being a prototype of the latter). A proper construal of these three dimensions allows for an explanation of constraints on possible combinations of elements that serve different roles in one or more of the dimensions. Finally, the generality of these types of linguistic meaning may call for a reconsideration of traditional analyses and distinctions, such as the grammatical analysis of complementation (Thompson 2002, Newmeyer 2010, Verhagen 2005, 2010), or the alleged difference between performative and descriptive uses of illocutionary verbs.



Clark, Herbert (1996), Communities, commonalities, and communication. John Gumperz& Stephen Levinson (eds.), Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.324‑355.

Clark, Herbert H. (2006). Social actions, social commitments. In: S.C. Levinson & N.J. Enfield (Eds.) Roots of human sociality: Culture, cognition, and human interaction. Oxford: Berg Press, p.126-150.

Fitch, W. Tecumseh (2010), The Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newmeyer, Frededrick J.  (2010), What conversational English tells us about the nature of grammar:A critique of Thompson’s analysis of object complements.In: Kasper Boye and Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen (eds.), Language Usage and Language Structure. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter Mouton, p.3-43.

Thompson, Sandra A. (2002), “Object complements” and conversation: towards a realistic account.Studies in Language 26: 125-164.

Tomasello, Michael (2008), Origins of Human Communication. MIT Press.

Verhagen, Arie (2005), Constructions of Intersubjectivity. Discourse, Syntax, and Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Verhagen, Arie (2010), Usage, structure, scientific explanation, and the role of abstraction, by linguists and by language users. In: Kasper Boye and Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen (eds.), Language Usage and Language Structure. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter Mouton, p.45-72.

23. 5. / 10. 50 / č. 300  2. Linguistic tools for mind reading in narratives
Narratives often involve complex relationships between what characters think about the knowledge and feelings of others, including their assumptions about other characters’ viewpoints, and are thus are regularly adduced as evidence for the specific human capacity of ‘multiple-order intentionality’ (Dennett 1987, Zunshine 2006, Dunbar 2008, Corballis 2011). Evolutionary Psychologists (cf. Barkow et al. 1992) or several, less or more domain-specific, adaptations in the big and powerful human brain as directly responsible for this ability, as well as for its apparent limitations (a maximum level of five or six orders of embedding of mind-states).

However, a plausible alternative explanation is that languages provide tools (i.e. culturally evolved ones) by means of which ‘mind reading’, including elaborate cases, can be performed (cf. Dancygier 2012). Firstly, I will critically examine, from a (cross)linguistic perspective, different narrative representations of complex viewpoint relations (such as Direct, Indirect and Free Indirect Discourse), concluding that these can at best only be construed in language-specific ways. Secondly, in a case study of reports on the shooting of by the South-African athlete Pistorius, I will show how complex viewpoint configurations can be introduced into a narrative holistically (without the complexity being constructed). Through these, it seems that mind reading may, in specific cases, attain arbitrarily many levels.



Corballis, M.C. (2011). The Recursive Mind. The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Barkow, J.H., L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (ed.). (1992). The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford/New York: Oxford UP.

Dancygier, B. (2012). The Language of Stories. A Cognitive Approach. New York: Cambridge UP.

Dennett, D. C. (1987). The Intentional Stance. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Dunbar, R.I.M. (2008). ‘Mind the Gap or Why Human Aren’t Just Great Apes’. In: Proceedings of the British Academy 154: 403-23.

Kinderman, P., R.I.M. Dunbar & R.P. Bentall(1998). ‘Theory-of-mind deficits and causal attributions’. British Journal of Psychology 89: 191-204.

Zunshine, L. (2006). Why We Read Fiction. Theory of Mind and the Novel.New York

24. 5. / 12: 30 / č. 300 3. The Proper Place of Conventionality in an Ethological Approach to Language
Conventionality is a general property of relationships between form and meaning in human languages, but views may differ strongly on how special this property is, and what role it plays in the explanation of linguistic phenomena.This is true for both different evolutionary accounts of the origin of language and different theories of grammar. On the basis of the insight that languages are culturally evolving sets of patterns of communicative behavior (cf. Croft 2000, and Van Trijp’s lectures earlier in this series), I argue that Tinbergen’s (1963) model for explanation in ethology (=behavioral biology) is applicable to linguistics, and that the proper construal of the difference between ‘proximate’ and ‘ultimate’ explanations is crucial. This allows us to distinguish the roles of ‘conventions’, ‘norms’ as social phenomena, resulting from the specific human form of cooperative communication, on the one hand, and ‘routines’, ‘entrenchment’ as individual phenomena on the other. Recognizing these differences in Tinbergen’s framework, thus taking ‘population thinking’ in linguistics seriously, sheds light on the nature of the error in the idea that the object of linguistictheory is a ‘representative’ (Langacker 2008: 30) or ‘ideal’ speaker-listener (Chomsky 1965: 3), and on the relationship between so-called ‘E-language’ and‘I-language’ (or ‘I-grammar’).



Chomsky, Noam (1965),Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Croft, William (2000), Explaining Language Change. Harlow: Longman.

Langacker, Ronald W. (2008),Cognitive grammar. A Basic Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tinbergen, Niko (1963), On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 20: 410-433.