LTA Workshop

Workshop on Ideas on Language Throughout the Ages

September 12th, 2019

University of Lisbon, Portugal

Satellite event following Protolang 6


09h00: Opening



Origins and evolutions of the language-as-knowledge versus language-as-communication paradigms

Nathalie Gontier, Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab, Centre for Philosophy of Science, Department for History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Language research is classically divided into schools of thought that emphasize the referential role of language and that subsequently understand knowledge as an instrument of knowledge and reason, and schools of thought that emphasize the social aspects of language and that therefore understand it as a communicative tool. We situate the origin of ideas on language-as-knowledge in ancient philosophies while ideas on language-as-communication originate with social contract theoreticians and early natural history students. The shift from the first paradigm to the other can be characterized as truly revolutionary and we investigate how even today, these paradigms continue to divide philosophical, linguistic and anthropological language research.


From Eden to Babel: About the Protolanguage according to the Hebrew Scripture and the Rabbinic Tradition

Szilvia Finta, Institute of Philosophy, Department of Logic, Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Ancient Languages, Saint Paul Academy, Budapest

In my presentation, I investigate the answers given in the Hebrew Scripture and the Rabbinic Tradition to questions such as: Did humans have one original language? Which language was spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? How did Adam learn to speak? Did Adam and Eve speak the same language after the Fall? Did humans have only one language from Adam until the story of the Tower of Babel? I will analyse rabbinic theories about the “Language of Creation” and the “Language of Adam” in accordance with five main theories. Afterwards, I will analyse language usage from the time of Noah until the Tower of Babel and the rabbinic opinion about why and how the languages were divided.


“Good savage” vs. “bad savage” – Discourse and counter-discourse on “primitive” language as a reflex of English colonialism

Gabriella Mazzon, Department of English, Leopold-Franzens Universität, Innsbruck, Austria

In the ideological construction of colonialism and, more widely, of any hierarchy of human communities, a crucial role is played by discourse on language. English nationalism and imperialism, in particular, developed extensive argumentations on language as an interpretation of the encounter with “the Other”, on the basis of internal cultural developments that assigned to language the role of social discriminator. The paper investigates a strand of such argumentations, pertaining to the concept of “primitive” languages used in the 17th-19th centuries to set it, in turn, in a positive light or in a negative one. The former employs tones related to Rousseau’s idea of the “good savage” and stands in connection with narratives on the “language of Adam” and of the “Welsh Indians”, the latter uses a rhetoric extolling “progress” and “civilization” against the “immaturity” and “backwardness” of primitive languages, a perspective that was later to influence Darwinism.

11h15-11h45: Break



Mathematical languages for culture and art

Harald Gropp, University of Heidelberg, Germany

The probably most universal language of practical use is (are) the language(s) of mathematics. They were developed only partially in correspondence with natural human languages and human scripts. Even more, it is a formula script which developed throughout time. How this is related to human (spoken) language and human thoughts, is not so easy to detect if written sources are missing. In this talk it will be shown how different mathematical languages are related to aspects of art and culture. More than 5000 years ago script was invented. In cuneiform script in the ancient Near East a close connection of mathematical thinking and writing in correspondence with astronomical phenomena can be detected. Only 500 years ago, mathematical formal language was worked out, and geometrical language developed in close contact to various disciplines of art. From the 19th century on many more languages were invented in order to solve problems of mathematical culture.


Language, thought, and the history of science

Carmela Chateau-Smith, Laboratoire CPTC, UFR Lettres et Philosophie, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France

Language and thought have often been linked: philosophers continue to debate how a given language may condition the expression of thought. Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of Biogeography, travelled the known world, collecting samples of language from the Americas for his elder brother, Wilhelm, to study. The Humboldt brothers, both polymaths and polyglots, published works in German and also in French. The language chosen to communicate scientific discoveries may facilitate or impede international access to such knowledge. The vector and the message may become intertwined in ways that are not yet fully understood. A case study of a 20th-century Kuhnian paradigm shift in Earth Science, from continental drift to plate tectonics, based on WebsTerre, a diachronic corpus of geological English, will demonstrate the potential impact of linguistic factors on the history of science.

13h05-14h30 Lunch



Language or thought, which comes first?

Diana Couto, LOGOS, Barcelona Institute of Analytic Philosophy, University of Barcelona, Spain & Mind, Language, and Action Group, University of Porto, Portugal

What is the relation between language and thought? Does thought depend on language? Two different kinds of answers have been given to these questions. Linguists, on the one hand, claim that thought depends on language, whereas Mentalists, on the other, assert that thought is still possible in the absence of language. It is commonly held in the philosophical literature that Donald Davidson - who famously claimed that “a creature cannot have thoughts unless it has a language” - endorses the former. However, in this talk I will argue that this interpretation is arguably mistaken. In particular, I will look closer at Davidson’s arguments and attempt to show that he doesn’t reject altogether that languageless creatures are thinking creatures. Instead, I will argue that he remains skeptic whether thought-attributions can count as more than useful fictions that successfully account for the behavior of those creatures.


Donald Davidson’s critiques of conceptual relativism applied to non-adaptationist evolutionary epistemology and refuted

Marta Facoetti, Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab, Centre for Philosophy of Science, Department for History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Conceptual relativism, the idea that empirical content (the world or experience) can be relative to many different conceptual schemes (worldviews or categorical systems) and their associated languages, is intimately connected with the notions of radical untranslatability and referential inscrutability. By subscribing to conceptual relativism, proponents of non-adaptationist Evolutionary Epistemology (EE) argue for the possibility of mutually inaccessible worldviews and the likelihood of complete communication failures both between conspecific organisms (Riegler stated the eventuality of a radical incommensurability between two humans) and non-conspecific ones (Clark, Diettrich, Riegler and Ruse all discussed the hypothetical case of a profound incommensurability between a human and an alien). In this talk, I propose to test the tenability of these non-adaptationist perspectives by directing Davidson’s famous critiques of conceptual relativism against them. I demonstrate that such non-adaptationist understandings of the relation between empirical content, conceptual schemes and their associated languages are not undermined by Davidson’s attacks.

15h50-16h20: Break



Reflections on Darwinian Disenchantment

Bárbara Jiménez-Pazos, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds, UK

In this talk I will examine the lexicon of Darwin’s major work The Origin of Species taking into account as background the question about disenchantment of the world (Max Weber’s Weltentzauberung) caused by modern science. My aim is to show that there is a semantic tendency towards a disenchanting type of language used by Darwin in his descriptions of nature. To this end, a computer-based analysis of the lexicon across the six editions of The Origin has been carried out with WordSmith Tools, a software package for computational linguists. The lexical and semantic analysis of the texts demonstrate that the descriptions of the natural landscape in Darwin’s texts are a reflection of a disenchanted view of the world in a non-pejorative sense, that is, this disenchanted conception leads to a perception of nature that does not lessen his aesthetic sensitivity to the landscape. Instead, it makes it more powerful.


Space as identity vs. language as identity

Branimir Vukosav1 & Marijana Kresić Vukosav2, 1Department of Geography, 2Department of Linguistics, University of Zadar, Zadar, Croatia

In this paper, we discuss the conceptualization of space as a dimension relevant to identity and the central role that is attributed to language with respect to the constitution of identity. We thereby pursue a threefold goal: 1. to highlight the contribution of geographical research to our understanding of the self as a phenomenon situated in space; 2. to discern merits, but also problems related to the recent strong emphasis of the role of language with respect to identity constitution, especially in constructivist and poststructuralist approaches; and 3. on the basis of these findings, to draw conclusions concerning the function of language, space, and other dimensions of identity. In addition to a survey of relevant theoretical positions, a corpus study of media texts serves to exemplify the interdisciplinary approach proposed in the paper, with a special focus on geographically and linguistically marked identity.


University of Lisbon, Faculty of Science

(Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências)

Campo Grande, Building C1, 3rd floor, Amfitheather Fundaça


Cidade Universitária on the yellow line & Campo Grande on the green and yellow line (subway map)


7, 21, 31, 35, 36, 47, 54, 64, 78, 83, 106, 108, 701, 732, 738, 745, 750, 755, 767, 768, 777, 780 (Route simulator)


The registration fee will be set at 75 euro and includes free access to Protolang 6 when not presenting at that conference. When also presenting at Protolang 6 the regular fees for that conference apply, but then participation to this workshop is free.

General information

The workshop is organized by Marta Facoetti & Nathalie Gontier. The workshop will be organized as a satellite event following the Protolang 6 conference.

Copyright AppEEL 2012