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Synthetic Language

by on April 18, 2013

Where to begin? DeLanda’s use of computer simulations to speculate on the emergence of human takes me so far out of my element I don’t know where to begin. The implications of DeLanda’s simulations, which purport to afford us some access to reality, are so wide ranging I hardly have the grounding to consider them. When I have time, I think I’ll check out this talk DeLanda gives on “A Materialist Theory of Language,” in which he uses assemblage theory to confront the linguistic theories of Chomsky and Saussure, among others.

In “Multiagents and Primitive Language,” DeLanda returns to automata theory, which he discussed in the difficult Cellular Automata chapter, featuring a lengthy discussion of The Game of Life. The origins of language, DeLanda speculates, begin with “monolithic symbolic artifacts,” or “labels that referred to directly experienced objects and acts” but that are not combinatorial (147). He uses the term “directly” again in his discussion of the emergence of reference: “the creation of a conventional association between monolithic symbolic artifacts and real entities mediated by meanings” (149). Meanings, he says, are “prototypes that neural nets extract from sensory experience, nonlinguistic categories or generalizations stored as distributed patterns of activation” (149). Finally, we get directly to “directly,” in that the meanings are directly associated with their referents by virtue of their derivation from direct encounters.

The above directness seems to contravene Saussure’s theory of the arbitrariness of language, given the fact that in DeLanda’s simulations, language bears a direct relationship to the thing represented. I can’t claim to grasp the complexities of DeLanda’s entire linguistic simulation, but this particular point, the emergence of language from an external source, and beyond that, the twin influences of biology and culture, seems worthy of further consideration.


From → Quadruple Object

  1. Thank you for posting this video, this fits in perfectly with my final topic!

  2. Hmmm, this is really interesting. If De Landa contravenes Saussure then he also contravenes Lacan, which would interest me. But I’m not really sure that he does. If language began with “monolithic symbolic artifacts,” or “labels that referred to directly experienced objects and acts”, I don’t see what would make those monolithic artifacts (like grunts or primal noises, that is the kind of thing he is talking about here, right?) not arbitrary. The grunt for tree would not necessarily have anything to do with a tree. So the meanings that get extracted from these monoliths and handed down across generations would still be, while direct, arbitrary.

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