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Seminar: Fifty shades of grue, Matt Spike, 3 Aug, 3.30pm

Australian National University, Evolution

Date: 24 July 2018

Seminar: Fifty shades of grue: Induction and natural kinds in language and biology, and a way out of the linguistic categorisation crisis.

Speaker: Matt Spike

When: 3 August 2018, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: Basham Room, Baldessin Building, ANU


Easily comparable cross-linguistic categories probably don't exist. This has major implications for the language sciences, and some (e.g. Haspelmath) have suggested we abandon the idea of making meaningful comparisons altogether. However, this issue connects to a deep and general problem in the philosophy of science: the problem of induction,  as identified by Hume (1740) and Goodman (1965). There is good news and bad news. The bad news: probably the best way to escape this problem is by identifying and working with natural kinds, but this is exactly what we can't seem to do in language. The good news: this kind of categorisation problem crops up all the time in other sciences: take, for example, biology, which has been doing rather well despite its underlying epistemic crisis. In biology, science proceeds by working with a more relaxed understanding of natural kinds: I will show how we can extend this to language, and support a meaningful role for cross-linguistic categories in the language sciences. 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University