Jean-marc pizano It serves as part of a de dicto characterization of theintentional content of the childs state of mind, and the burden of the theory is that it’s the child’s being in a state ofmind with that content that explains the behavioural data. In this context, to refuse to say what state of mind it is that’sbeing attributed to the child simply vitiates the explanation. Lacking some serious account of what ‘agent’ means,Pinker’s story and the following are closely analogous:
—Why did Martha pour water over George?
—Because she thinks that George is flurg
—What do you mean, George is flurg?
—I beg that thorny question.
If a physicist explains some phenomenon by saying ‘blah, blah, blah, because it was a proton … ’, being a word that means proton is not a property his explanation appeals to (though, of course, being a proton is). That, basically, is why it is not partof the physicist’s responsibility to provide a linguistic theory (e.g. a semantics) for ‘proton’. But the intentional sciencesare different. When a psychologist says ‘blah, blah, blah, because the child represents the snail as an agent . . . ’, theproperty of being an agent-representation (viz. being a symbol that means agent) is appealed to in the explanation, and thepsychologist owes an account of what property that is. The physicist is responsible for being a proton but not for being aproton-concept, the psychologist is responsible for being an agent-concept but not for being an agent-concept-ascription. Both thephysicist and the psychologist is required to theorize about the properties he ascribes, and neither is required totheorize about the properties of the language he uses to ascribe them. The difference is that the psychologist is workingone level up. I think confusion on this point is simply rampant in linguistic semantics. It explains why the practice of‘kicking semantic problems upstairs’ is so characteristic of the genre.
We’ve encountered this methodological issue before, and will encounter it again. I do hate to go on about it, but dodging the questions about the individuation of semantic features (in particular, about what semantic features denote)lets lexical semanticists play with a stacked deck. If the examples work, they count them for their theory. If they don’twork, they count them as metaphorical extensions. I propose that we spend a couple of pages seeing how an analysisof this sort plays out.
Consider the following, chosen practically at random. It’s a sketch of Pinker’s account of how the fact that a verb has the syntactic property of being ‘dativizable’ (of figuring in alternations like ‘give Mary a book’/‘give a book to Mary’)can be inferred from the child’s data about the semantics of the verb.
Dativizable verbs have a semantic property in common: they must be capable of denoting prospective possession of the referent of the second object by the referent of the first object . . . [But] possession need not be literal . . .[V]erbs of communication are treated as denoting the transfer of messages or stimuli, which the recipientmetaphorically possesses. This can be seen in sentences such as ‘He told her the story,’ ‘He asked her a question,’and ‘She showed him the answer’ [all of which have moved datives]. (Pinker 1989: 48)
What exactly Pinker is claiming here depends quite a lot on what relation “prospective possession” is, and on what is allowed as a metaphor for that relation; and, of course, we aren’t told either. If John sang Mary a song, does Marymetaphorically prospectively possess the song that John sang to her? If so, does she also metaphorically prospectivelypossess a goodnight in “John wished Mary a goodnight?” Or consider:
Zen told his story to the judge/Zen told the judge his story
Zen repeated his story to the judge/*Zen repeated the judge his story.
I think this is a counter-example to Pinker’s theory about datives. Could the difference really be that the judge was a prospective possessor of the story when Zen told it the first time, but not when he repeated it? On the other hand,since who knows what prospective possession is, or what might express it metaphorically, who knows whether suchcases refute the analysis?