Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Delusions and Language: the Forgotten Factor

This post is by Wolfram Hinzen, who is research professor at ICREA (Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies and Research), currently investigating language as an aspect of human nature, cognition, and biology at the Grammar and Cognition Lab. In this post, he summarises his recent paper "Can delusions be linguistically explained?", co-authored with Joana Rossello and Peter McKenna and published in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry.

Wolfram Hinzen

Explanations of delusions often revolve around meaning and knowledge. Indeed the philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers (1959) famously argued that all delusions could be understood as a radical transformation in the awareness of meaning, which became immediate and intrusive attribution. How such an abnormality might give rise to statements such as ‘I am Jesus’, ‘the Royal family are stealing my inventions’ and in extreme cases ‘I have fathered 7,000 children’ or ‘I have invented a machine to run the whole solar system powered by milk’, was never very clear in this account. Nor for that matter do contemporary psychological theories on semantic memory, which contains knowledge about the meaning of words (ie the lexicon) as well as all other knowledge about the world, provide any obvious way via which dysfunction could give rise to the kind of statements deluded patients make.

There is however another level of meaning, whose existence has long been recognized, particularly in philosophy. This is propositional meaning, the kind of meaning that arises from structuring of lexical-semantic information when the level of complexity of full sentences is reached. Some neuro-cognitive system needs to generate propositional meaning, and according to the un-Cartesian hypothesis (Hinzen, Sheehan, 2013), this system is the system that retrieves lexicalized concepts stored in long-term semantic memory and puts them into grammatical configurations. As a result, a new kind of meaning arises that lexical concepts as such do not carry: propositional and referential meaning. Grammar, according to this proposal, is what ultimately enables the ‘world as known’, the world as it appears in the format of propositional knowledge.