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Robert Port

Robert Port of Indiana University will speak at the UCSD Linguistics Department Colloquium on April 6, 2009, at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301.

Rich linguistic memory shows language must be a social object, not psychological

It has been shown that languages are not composed from some apriori alphabet of symbols (Port & Leary, 2005 Language), so where do phonological regularities (and lexical items, etc.) come from? There is evidence that a community of speakers (as a complex system) imitates and categorizes each other's speech and tends to evolve categories of sound that resemble discrete phonemes. This implies that phonological patterns (as well as lexical and grammatical patterns) are inherently social and do not consist of tokens stored and manipulated in the brains of speakers, as we have thought. Linguists have trusted their intuitions about phonemes when we should have considered the likelihood that literacy training would determine our intuitions about language. So phonology is a social institution that can only imitate an abstract alphabet, since it is distributed across the community and relies on a rich memory representation. All alphabets are a recent technology for low-bitrate representation of language. But only our written language employs an alphabet.