LingLang Lunch (9/25/2012): Geoffrey K. Pullum (University of Edinburgh)

Psychology and the Claimed Infinitude of Sentences

Some linguists take it to be an established universal that human languages have infinitely many sentences. I explore their reasons for believing this. I argue that no evidence could support or refute the infinitude claim; no convincing argument has been advanced for its truth; no consequences would follow from it; it might not be universally true anyway; and there are no significant consequences for psychology if that is the case. I focus especially on the supposed link between the infinitude claim and “creative” human cognitive abilities such as being able to come up with new utterances that are appropriate to context.