Languages and Other Abstract Structures

In Christina Behme & Martin Neef (eds.), Essays on Linguistic Realism. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 139-184 (2018)
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My aim in this chapter is to extend the Realist account of the foundations of linguistics offered by Postal, Katz and others. I first argue against the idea that naive Platonism can capture the necessary requirements on what I call a ‘mixed realist’ view of linguistics, which takes aspects of Platonism, Nominalism and Mentalism into consideration. I then advocate three desiderata for an appropriate ‘mixed realist’ account of linguistic ontology and foundations, namely (1) linguistic creativity and infinity, (2) linguistics as a theory of types (and not tokens) and (3) independence but structural respect between language and the linguistic competence thereof. My own brand of mixed realism, what I call ante rem realism, is defended along the lines of an ante rem or non-eliminative structuralism, the likes of which has been offered for mathematics by Resnik (1997) and Shapiro (1997). In other words, grammars describe a mind-independent (but not necessarily unconnected) linguistic reality in terms of linguistic patterns or structures also known as natural languages. I further amend this picture to allow for the possibility of a naturalistic account of language acquisition and evolution by arguing against a particular view of the type-token distinction.

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Ryan Mark Nefdt
University of Cape Town


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