[lit-ideas] Beyond signalling lies nothing

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2011 19:26:55 +0100 (BST)

JLS wrote:-
>Grice claims that there is NOTHING *over* and *above* what McEvoy
ironically  refers to this 'acute partial grasp' of such excellent thing as the 
'signalling' function is.

There is nothing to language (or lingo, as I prefer) but signalling.>

This claim surely needs some defending. Popper adopts Karl Buehler's 
_Sprachtheorie_ which distinguishes the expressive, signalling and descriptive 
functions [there are others, like the 'performative', but these may be set 
aside here; and to Buehler's hierarchy of functions, Popper proposes that above 
the descriptive level there is the argumentative function]. A key assumption is 
that the higher functions presuppose the lower: not merely in the sense that 
they emerge later and subsequent to the lower but they cannot be present 
without all the lower functions also simultaneously being present. In other 
words, it is impossible to describe without at the same time signalling (or 
involving the signalling function), and likewise any such signalling must also 
involve the expressive function. 

This means that to show there is no higher function than signalling, it is not 
enough to point out how a description can be interpreted as a form of 
signalling - for this is accepted even on a _Sprachtheorie_ like Buehler's. It 
is necessary to show that whatever in a description that might seem to involve 
something beyond mere signalling - for example, the question of the truth or 
falsity of the description - can be reduced, without distortion, to a mere act 
of signalling. To take an example, if I were to say to my neighbour that their 
house is on fire, there is no issue of whether this is true or false but merely 
an issue as to whether my signalling causes in them the intended reaction [say, 
of panic]. 

Is it the case that Grice denies there is any such issue of truth over and 
above the efficacy of the signal? How is this to be defended?

Bearing in mind that the following kind of argument, which merely shows the 
presence of signalling and not that there are no irreducibly 'higher reaches', 
is not perhaps adequate a defence:

>Grice discovered this when he philosophised on verbs like

'segnare' (or Latin, 'signare')
or Latin, 'significare'.

Those spots signify measles

was his example. But spots, while they signal, only signal in front of a 
human being. Hence, language trades on this signalling function of iconicity 
and  transplants it to higher reaches -- e.g. implicature.>

This is also flawed because, unlike the dance of a bee or the warning sounds of 
birds, the spot is not engaged in a programme of action that involves 
signalling and where its effectiveness in signalling can be judged: to say a 
'spot' is a sign of measles is not to say the spot 'signals' or can be seen as 
engaged in 'signalling' that there are measles.


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