Tidbit: “Semantic over-achievers”

by kpreid1 min read1st Dec 201127 comments


Personal Blog

[I'd put this in an open thread, but those don’t seem to happen these days, and while this is a quote it isn't a Rationality Quote.]

You know, one of the really weird things about us human beings […] is that we have somehow created for ourselves languages that are just a bit too flexible and expressive for our brains to handle. We have managed to build languages in which arbitrarily deep nesting of negation and quantification is possible, when we ourselves have major difficulties handling the semantics of anything beyond about depth 1 or 2. That is so weird. But that's how we are: semantic over-achievers, trying to use languages that are quite a bit beyond our intellectual powers.

Geoffrey K. Pullum, Language Log, “Never fails: semantic over-achievers”, December 1, 2011

This seems like it might lead to something interesting to say about the design of minds and the usefulness of generalization/abstraction, or perhaps just a good sound bite.