Language is for communication.
Note: Sidewalker has taken this debate. It will remain up until we start it in around a week :)
Note: This debate should be impossible to accept. If you find a clever way to work around the rules, you automatically forfeit all seven points. If you would like to debate, please say so in the comments after reading this opening round.
I do not plan to start this for a week or so. I started early as I don't think many may be willing to take this.
The full resolution is as follows: 'Resolved: The primary function of language is communication.'
-Language - A complex semiotic system to express a large variety of ideas used by humans (we are excluding animal language)
-Communication - The transmission of data and information from (an) individual(s) to other individual(s)
-Primary - main
1. Debate structure:
R1: Con posts opening arguments or accepts.
R2-3: Arguments and rebuttals. If Con posted opening arguments in R1, he or she should also post his or her conclusion here.
R4: Arguments and conclusion. If Con posted opening arguments in R1, he or she should waive this round.
2. No trolling, no kritiks. Semantics allowed for obvious reasons, but not for any words in the resolution.
3. In general, all arguments should be posted inside the debate, but if you are really busy, I will accept arguments posted in the comments shortly after your forfeiture of the round.
4. BOP is on Pro.
5. I'll probably change the definitions and full resolution during the challenge period. You are welcome to give suggestions for their betterment.
By the way...
I know this is highly atypical of me, but I didn't create this debate to win. I created this debate to learn more about the topic through debating, so I won't be a sore loser at all!
I thank my opponent for accepting my debate and will now go on to present my opening arguments.
Language is a semiotic system; it is a system of signs that serves to represent thoughts. It resembles the system of symbols in maths, which is designed to represent mathematical concepts: f(x) = 2x + 3. Maths symbols can be used for accounting and finance – many advanced mathematical concepts are used in these fields, such as matrices. Yet it would be erroneous to conclude that the primary purpose of maths is to facilitate accounting and finance.
My primary position in this debate is that the primary function of language is not to communicate, but merely to express thought.
C1: Empirical Perspective
If we reflect on how language is used, we find that language is used for many purposes, only one of which is communication. Language is often used without a hearer. Cook and Newson (2007), for example, gave lecture notes, talking to oneself and diary-writing as examples.
The notion of communication being merely one of the functions of the language, rather than the primary one, dates back at least to Malinowski (1923). He belonged to the same generation of linguists as Sapir and Whorf, when linguists had strong anthropology backgrounds. Based on his studies of tribal language, he identified four uses of language: speech in action, narrative, phatic communion and ritual use. (2) Phatic communion refers to speech used for social purposes like to build and strengthen interpersonal bonds, e.g. the Cantonese, nei sik zo faan mei aa?, lit. ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’. We aren’t really communicating: We are not wishing the listener a good morning or asking whether the listener has eaten rice. Rather, we do it out of social politeness. An example on DDO is when ESocialBookworm interviewed Zaradi and bsh1. When ESocial said she was interviewing Matt and Brian, Zaradi asked, ‘who?’ This was a joke to relax the atmosphere; he obviously knew who Matt (himself) and Brian (bsh1) were.
Although Malinowski’s view of language as mainly a social function has been rejected by some modern schools of linguistics such as Chomsky’s school, it does serve as a good starting point for how communication isn’t the primary function of language. Finch (1998) offers seven microfunctions (physiological, phatic, recording, identifying, reasoning, communicating, pleasure). (3) Physiological functions include the use of expletives to vent anger; recording functions include writing diaries or lecture notes; reasoning is the use of language in our brains to facilitate thought; pleasure is the use of language to make aesthetically beautiful sounds (rhyming, alliteration…), puns and so on. Again, communication is but one of the purposes.
Chomsky further suggested that the primary function of language is to use the mind via the computational system, the system that turns meanings into sounds. (1) From Language and Responsibility: (4)
Language can be used to transmit information but it also serves many other purposes: To establish relations among people, to express or clarify thought, for creative mental activity, to gain understanding, and so on. In my opinion there is no reason to accord privileged status to one or the other of these modes. Forced to choose, I would say something quite classical and rather empty: language serves essentially for the expression of thought.
If there is any common denominator we can find among the many functions of language we have discussed, it is that it serves to turn ideas into signs; in other words, we express our thoughts using language. That is the primary function; communication is not.
C2: Evolutionary Perspective
The notion of language being primarily being evolved as an instrument for representing thought, rather than a means of communication, is perhaps as old as the idea of evolution itself. Darwin wrote, ‘As the voice was used more and more, the vocal organs would have been strengthened and perfected through the principle of the inherited effects of use ... but the relation between the continued use of language and development of the brain, has no doubt been far more important ... we may confidently believe that the continued use and advancement of this power would have reacted on the mind itself, by enabling it and encouraging it to carry on long trains of thought.’ (5)
Of course, we are unable to return to the past to see whether language originated because selective pressures were exerted on humans to force them to enhance communication. However, we can look at the evidence we do have. If language were actually evolved with communication as a primary concern, then we would see linguistic change moving towards the goal of enhancing communication. Alas, this is not the case, and we can see that it is not by analyzing several aspects of language that limit its usefulness as a means of communication.
There are many gaps in the syntax of human language. This means that in our semiotic system, there are items which are left out in the representation, even though these items are an important part of the meaning. One is topic-drop. Sometimes, the subject, and sometimes other parts of speech, of a finite clause is left out. According to Rizzi, this dropped phrase, called ‘pro’ is recovered by its proper governor. (5) Consider this example from (1):
[I] sit down.
As Hungarian has a rich subject-verb agreement system, the finite inflection for the verb ‘sit down’ governs the meaning of the dropped pro. If this were always the case, then pro-drop would not affect communication. However, the case of Chinese is quite different, as Huang (1983) showed. (6) Chinese, a pro-drop language, has no subject-verb agreement at all. Huang argues that rather than dropping pro, Chinese drops an empty topic operator. As topic depends largely on context, this can provide hindrance to communication. Consider this extract from a famous piece by politician and historian Sima Guang, addressed to his son.
Canzheng Lu Gong wei jianguan, Zhenzong qian shi ji zhao zhi, de yu jiujia, ji ru, wen qi suo lai, yi shi dui.
If you had difficulty figuring out what this meant, refer to this version, in which ---(l) refers to Lu, ---(m) to the messenger and ---(e) to Zhenzong:
Canzheng Lu was imperial censor, Zhenzong sent messenger rapidly summon him(l), ---(m) found in tavern ---(l), after ---(e) entered, ---(e) asked him(l) where ---(l) came [from], to PRO(e) actually converse [with] ---(l).
Clearly, topic-drop renders language inefficient at communication.
SC2) Null subjects
Null subjects are another type of gap. Non-finite clauses do not require a subject in many languages, including English. This again leads to problems. Without the null subject, two sentences may ostensibly have the same structure, but two different null subjects:
JMK requested Zaradi to PRO take off his shirt.
JMK promised Zaradi to PRO take off his shirt.
In our first sentence, the antecedent of PRO is Matt, while in our second sentence, it is Joey! (This doesn’t matter as he doesn’t use his webcam in Hangouts, but that’s beside the point.) This phenomenon is explained by control theory: request is an object control verb and promise is a subject control verb. These parsing problems lead to inefficient communication. If language were truly perfect for communication, PRO would be spelt out, but this is not the case.
SC3) Ambiguity and Garden Paths
A third example of this is ambiguity, both syntactic and lexical. I don’t think this requires much explanation. Ambiguity abounds in human language, and these ambiguities are ‘design flaws’ in language that prevent it from communicating effectively. Scope ambiguity is an example. (8) I experienced this on DDO when TBR used an ambiguous sentence. Only after a long conversation did the right interpretation dawn on me:
All software will never be open source.
I interpreted this as meaning that no software will ever be [-open source], when in fact, he meant that some software will be [-open source]:
Who used more reliable sources?
There are two interpretations of this:
Under the one on the left, the question asks who had higher-quality sources; under the one of the right, the question asks who had more sources of reasonable quality. Were language designed for communication, we would somehow eliminate this (e.g. different 'mores' for the determiner and the adverb).
SC4) Wrapping Up
Why does all of this show that language is primarily for expressing thought, and not communication? Firstly, we need to know how the computational system works. This is a diagram after Cook and Newson (2007) (1):
(1) Cook and Newson (2007): Chomsky’s Universal Grammar.
(2) Malinowski, B. (1923): The problem of meaning in primitive languages.
(3) Finch, G. (1998): How to Study Linguistics.
(4) Chomsky, N. (1979): Language and Responsibility.
(5) Rizzi, L. (1986): Null objects in Italian and the theory of pro.
(6) Huang, C-T. J. (1983): On the distribution and reference of empty pronouns.
(7) Sima, G.: Xin Jian Shi Kang.
(10) Collins, J. (2008): Chomsky: A Guide for the Perplexed.
Kryptic forfeited this round.
It seems that my opponent has, unfortunately, forfeited. It seems that my opponent has been rather busy of late, and as such, I urge that the voters do not punish him for this. I will only use this round to clarify the final point I made last round.
It is widely accepted among linguists that our brains process language first as a deep structure (or D-structure), which is then turned into a surface structure (S-structure) after movement:
For example, the question Why won't Zaradi take off his shirt? has a deep structure, Zaradi won't take of his shirt why. The deep structure conforms to English's normal SVO order, as you can see.
You may be tempted to think that semantic interpretation takes place at D-structure because this is where thematic roles are assigned. Consider:
D-structure: ---- was praised JMK in the compliments box.
S-structure: JMK(i) was praised t(i) in the compliments box.
In D-structure, insulted assigned the role of patient to JMK. Yet this interpretation is problematic. Let's alter the above sentence:
D-structure: JMK believed -------- to be praised himself.
S-structure: JMK(i) believed himself(i) to be praised t(i).
At D-structure, himself is not bound in its governing category because there is no co-indexed element within the inflection phrase to be insulted himself(i) in the truth boxwhich c-commands it.
I know that most of us may not be familiar with these terms. As an analogy, refer to this sentence:
JMK believed that someone insulted himself in the truth box.
Here, we know 'himself' refers to 'someone', which c-commands it. We would never interpret 'someone'as JMK.
Clearly, himself is not defined at the D-structure, or himself in JMK(i) believed -------- to be insulted himself(i) in the truth box would not make any sense. As a solution, linguists have proposed that after the S-structure, the sentence being processed branches out into a phonetic form for the sensorimotor system to produce, and a logical form where semantic interpretation takes place. This gives us a T-diagram proposed at the end of the 1990s (I added the sensorimotor and conceptual-intentional systems myself) (1):
Details about the logical form are too technical to go over here, but it resolves anaphoric expressions like the ones above, as well as scope ambiguity and so on. The logic form serves as a semantic interface between our computational system* and our conceptual-intentional system. The point is, if the meaning is very clear at the semantic interface but less clear at the phonological interface (even if, as we have seen above, the phonological interface can be designed to be clear semantically), we can conclude that language is more suited for thought than for communication, and posit that language evolved primarily for the expression of thoughts and not for communication.
*The computational system can either be viewed as the language faculty itself, or a component of the language faculty, which is also composed of the sensiromotor and conceptual-intentional systems. The former view is heavily criticised by linguists such as Pinker and Jackendoff (2005) (2), but this does not concern us here.
(1) Cook, V.J. and Newson, M. (2007): Chomsky’s Universal Grammar.
(2) Pinker, S. and Jackendoff, R. (2005): The faculty of language: what's special about it?
Language is for communication.
Semiotic; Noun: The study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviour; the analysis of systems of communication, as language, gestures, or clothing.
Data; Noun: Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.
Information; Noun: Facts provided or learned about something or someone.
Firstly, I would like to sincerely apologise to Con and to voters / anyone who looks at this debate, it is very unprofessional of me to not mention my reasoning of absence; however it is true that I have been thoroughly busy as of late, I am currently moving and internet issues as well as time to rest has been almost impossible. As a result, I am now debating for rounds 2 and 3. Before I begin, I would like to show reverence to how well Cons argument is thought out, if I didn’t have a topic in mind, I would be stumped.
If I could possibly summarise Cons argument so far to see if I am on correct terms; essentially, we can communicate without communicating, using language as a common ground and abusing the social structure of language that is publicly accepted and regarded as the norm in such a way to relocate emphasis towards something that is not the definition of communication. As we have described communication to be the sharing of data from one source to another, we can essentially use language towards another individual and at the same time, not share any facts or statistics.
By definition, I would have to agree with Con, it is possible that language does not have to be communicated; language can simply be a common barrier to reduce levels of distress with confusion of one another, it also reduces time when specifying something in particular.
However, by definition of the word semiotic, language clearly applies to communication as well. My argument is stated clearly that Language is for communication. It would have been a little more interesting if con specified and suggested language was for communication only, although by this stage I would have already lost.
As we are not going into detail about animal language and I will assume all primitive language (I am referring primitive as the inability to record data) (I am also assuming that animal language doesn’t include body language in people, or human offspring), I will not break the code of conduct and suggest anything about it. Instead of going down this route, I will firstly make a few rebuttals towards Con’s brilliant argument and make one of my own.
“If we reflect on how language is used, we find that language is used for many purposes, only one of which is communication. Language is often used without a hearer. Cook and Newson (2007), for example, gave lecture notes, talking to oneself and diary-writing as examples.”
~I would like to argue on this point; I do not doubt that only one point of language is used for *verbal communication, what I doubt is the necessity for diverse language to enhance other fields to display communication in today’s society.  The difference between someone at a pub having a conversation and flirting doesn’t have to be a difference in the wording, but in body language, which indicates different intention, body language can indirectly communicate position. 
“Of course, we are unable to return to the past to see whether language originated because selective pressures were exerted on humans to force them to enhance communication. However, we can look at the evidence we do have. If language were actually evolved with communication as a primary concern, then we would see linguistic change moving towards the goal of enhancing communication. Alas, this is not the case, and we can see that it is not by analysing several aspects of language that limit its usefulness as a means of communication.”
~I disagree on this point also, communication has developed as our brain has, this would have mutually evolved; I actually do have evidence to back up this claim, however this would interfere with one of the rules with animal communication, so I will reframe from addressing that issue. Perhaps I could take this down another route; we do see a correlation of bad communication skills and poor knowledge of language in the uneducated populous, at least in Australia. A large majority of the Indigenous population is uneducated in literature; as a result they have decreased in growth within language.
(If you want to look up how we ‘learnt’ our ability to speak, go to source ).
“The point is, if the meaning is very clear at the semantic interface but less clear at the phonological interface (even if, as we have seen above, the phonological interface can be designed to be clear semantically), we can conclude that language is more suited for thought than for communication, and posit that language evolved primarily for the expression of thoughts and not for communication.”
~This is a very impressive order you have, although it has one flaw; the reason behind the thinking. A study done a few years ago now suggests that the position to begin thinking stems from communication at the core. This means that Language is for communication, but then language is used as a tool to record and learn to better adapt and equip the communication. 
I would have also posted the main parts to my argument, unfortunately though, it was all covered in these 4 main points.
Once again I would like to apologise for my absence in the previous round and would also like to thank Con for the opportunity to debate him.
I thank my opponent for his arguments. I will now proceed to my rebuttals and will address my oppponent's arguments one by one.
R1) Definition of 'semiotic'
My opponent argued that the definition of the term 'semiotic' implies that language must, by definition, be for communication. While I don't challenge the authority of the definition my opponent has given, I will contend that the pure, conceptual meaning of semiotics is the study of signs. For example, Merriam-Webster defines semiotics as 'a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics'. (1) Thus a semiotic system is simply a system of signs and symbols, entities which include, in Ferdinand de Saussure's terms (2), a signifier and a signified.
The communication element is, I'd contend, an element of the associative meaning of semiotics. Communication is simply associated with semiotics because communication is perceived to be the primary purpose of signs, and because much of semiotic study has been dedicated to the communicative element.
R2) Body language
My opponent asserts that body language is a not a type of animal language. I actually challenge the idea that all body language falls into the category of human language. Hockett's design features of language are widely accepted in linguistic study. According to Hockett, there are a few design featuers unique to human language which are absent in animal language. Although the theory has evolved over time, the core elements widely accepted to be unique to humans are: (3)
-Reflexivity: We can use language to talk about language, e.g. Don't use a preposition at the end of a sentence!
Moreover, even if we were to accept gestures and emblems as types of language and that their primary purpose is communication, note that they only constitute a part of human language. It would be a mistake to overgeneralise this idea by suggesting that since body languages have communication as a primary function, all languages have communication as a primary function. Languages like Chinese, English and French are also language.
R3) Correlation of poor communication skills and poor knowledge of language
My opponent asserts that there is a correlation between poor communication skills and poor knowledge of language. I do not disagree with this notion. I have never denied that communication is one of the many essential functions of language, just not the primary one.
By asserting that poor language skills leads to poor communication skills, my opponent has only proved that a primary means of communication is language. Yet to suggest that this indicates communication is the primary function of language is a non sequitur. Let's use an analogy, with the poor instead of tribes, and with money instead of language. A lack of money leads to a lack of power to buy things. This does show that the primary means to settle transactions in modern society is to use money. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that the primary function of money is to settle transactions. Money performs three other equally important functions: as a store of value, as a unit of account and as a standard of deferred payment. Similarly, while language is an essential means of communication, communication is not the primary function of language.
Moreoever, his example of aboriginal tribes is not too relevant because they do not have poor language skills. They are well-versed in their tribal languages and communicate well with one another. If anything, they are better at communication than English-speaking Australians because tribal languages tend to have highly complex grammatical structures that can express ideas more precisely than major languages like English. (5)
R4) Reason behind thought
My opponent responded to my argument on thoughts, rather than communication, being the primary purpose of language, by citing a study which suggest that '[...] the position to begin thinking stems from communication at the core.' Yet my opponent has not explained how the study came to this conclusion. I would like to ask my opponent how the researchers came to this conclusion. Meanwhile, I'm afraid that this can only be properly regarded as a bare assertion with an appeal to authority.
In fact, I'm not sure what my opponent meant exactly by this. I'd like to ask my opponent what he meant by 'the position to begin thinking stems from communication at the core'. Do you mean that thinking is a form of a communication, or that selective pressures which forced us to communicate led to the development of our thinking ability as an epiphenomenon?
My opponent then stated that '[...] language is used as a tool to record and learn to better adapt and equip the communication.' As I did not understand the first statement clearly, I couldn't tell how it led to this conclusion, and can only comment on this conclusion at face value. Though this is certainly a function of language, there is no evidence that it is the primary one.
My opponent wrote, 'I actually do have evidence to back up this claim, however this would interfere with one of the rules with animal communication, so I will reframe from addressing that issue.' In fact, it does not matter if my opponent's point mentions animal communication. Human communication likely evolved from animal communication. As long as my opponent's conclusion is that human, not animal, language has communication as a primary function, then his argument is not against the rules. Should my opponent's argument be intended as such, I would be grateful if he can bring it to the table.
O2) On citing academic work
My opponent appears to have, for several times, brought up studies that confirm his conclusions, but with little explanation of how the studies came to these conclusions. Often, it is not clear where in the source links these were stated, either. I would like to suggest that he explain how these conclusions were came to, such as the reasoning used by the studies or the statistics they provided. Otherwise, my opponent's arguments do seem to lack substance per se.
(4) Yule, G.: The Study of Language (2010).
(5) Dixon, R. M. W.: Basic Linguistic Theory (2010).
Due to this untimely turn of events, i am unable to post a conclusion, i will renounce my satus so far in respect for Con as i have now missed two rounds. I did wish to contribute more on this debate; however i am in no way a warden of time. I thankyou for the opportunity to debate and apologise for the lack of consistency that was required by signing up to this debate.