Friends of Semantic Compositions

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August 13, 2004


Neel Krishnaswami

Hello, I'm a programming language semanticist, and I periodically read computational linguistics blogs just because it looks like a peek into a weirdly-altered parallel dimension.

That said, I want to ask: does FLN even exist? Even if you grant that recursion is what distinguishes human language from animal vocalization, it seems like you can make a pretty good argument that recursion is a general cognitive facility for humans.

In particular, humans are the only animal that are secondary tool-users. Chimps and otters use tools, but only humans make tools to make tools with, and so on.

Also, humans are the only animals that engage in intermediary trade. Chimpanzees understand the concept of trade: Frans de Waal wrote that if you leave a broom in the chimpanzee cage, you can get it back by getting a chimp's attention, pointing to the broom, and then showing it an apple or banana. But humans are the only animal that engage in intermediary trade: we trade for things that we don't need, but which we can use to trade with other people.

Add language to this list, and to me it looks like recursion is a cognitive facility that humans developed and them applied to the whole range of general primate stuff.


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I'd give you a link to the site but I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence.

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