Our societies are founded on various communicative acts (private, public, legal). What others tell us is our fundamental social source of information. Until recently, investigations of linguistic communication have largely ignored the role of conscious experience. Upon listening to an utterance in a familiar language, we can often experience that we have understood it. Some philosophers have recently argued that it is by consciously experiencing understanding (or meanings) of linguistic utterances that we can benefit from linguistic communication in acquiring beliefs and knowledge about what speakers convey (e.g. Hunter 1998; Fricker 2003; Brogaard 2018). Given new philosophical and empirical research on consciousness and linguistic communication, it is now possible to explain the nature and role of experiences of understanding language.
The goal of this project was to explain the role of consciousness in linguistic communication, by developing a novel, empirically informed account of the nature, epistemology, and action-guiding roles of experiences of language understanding. The results of this project question some of the assumptions in this debate and provide novel ways of explaining and accounting for the phenomena investigated in this field. Although experiences of language understanding bear some interesting similarities to perceptual experiences, the project provided results which suggest that we have both theoretical and empirical reasons not to conceive of them as perceptual, contrary to an influential view. The project also showed that we need a much richer account of what we experience when listening to a familiar language than has been assumed in this debate. When listening to utterances in a familiar language we also systematically experience a variety of prosodic phenomena that speakers routinely produce to indicate their attitudes and emotions, as well as stable vocal characteristics of speakers. Finally, the project resulted in a new account of experiences of understanding, according to which they are epistemic feelings of linguistic fluency. This novel and possibly controversial view can have many interesting consequences for questions concerning possible epistemic and action-guiding roles of such states and the ways they might contribute to reliable communication.
The project deployed a novel interdisciplinary approach that involved drawing on empirical research to a far greater extent than is common in this field. The first part of the project involved a long research stay in London and collaboration with the project partners: the Institute of Philosophy (UoL), and the Department of Philosophy at Birkbeck.
The project outcomes have resulted in:
- Research results in the philosophy of mind and language concerning linguistic understaning, including a novel proposal concerning the nature and role of experiences of understanding.
- Altogether 11 scholarly publications, including papers in international peer-reviewed journals on key ideas and hypotheses developed in this project.
- Widespread dissemination of research results.
- A mobility period in London and close collaboration with project partners: the Institute of Philosophy (UoL) and the Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck.
- Three research events co-organised by the project manager as part of the dissemination activities for the project.
- Collaboration between research networks in philosophy of mind, language and pragmatics in Great Britain and Norway.
- New research questions and hypotheses concerning voice perception and speaker impressions, which led to a new research project.
Our societies are founded on various communicative acts (private, public, legal). What others tell us is our fundamental social source of knowledge. Until recently, investigations of linguistic communication have ignored the role of conscious experience. However, this approach is very problematic. Upon listening to an utterance in her language, a hearer becomes consciously aware of that utterance's meaning. It is by consciously grasping a meaning of an utterance that we benefit from communication in acquiring new beliefs and deciding what to do. Given new empirical research on consciousness, it is now possible to explain the nature and role of experiences of understanding.
The goal of this project is to explain the role of consciousness in linguistic communication, by developing a novel, empirically informed account of the nature, epistemology, and action-guiding roles of experiences of language understanding. I will show that when listening to language we experience significantly more (e.g. implicated and figurative meanings) than has been assumed. I will explain how such experiences give rise to cognitive and emotional effects, leading to biases and prejudices. I will argue that the popular question of whether experiences of understanding are perceptual is ill-posed and develop an alternative view on their nature. As for their epistemology, the project will explain how experiences of understanding lead to reliable communication and how we can act on what others tell us. The project will deepen our knowledge of mechanisms underlying important social practices, which will benefit policies reducing language-induced biases.
I will employ a novel interdisciplinary approach. The first two years will be spent at the Dept. of Philosophy, Birkbeck, London, where I will work closely with Jennifer Hornsby, a leading philosopher of action, mind and language. Barry Smith (IoP), Deirdre Wilson (UCL) and Brit Brogaard (Miami) will help me apply results from cognitive science.