Reply To: Is anyone familiar with Jackendoff’s work in linguistics?

  • Whit Blauvelt

    May 27, 2024 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Shannon,

    Appreciate your engagement here! I’ve been bouncing around through a stack of Jackendoff’s books. His recognition of the spatial interests me as I’ve long been focused on the relation of path with opinion. There’s a binary in pop psychology (and in formal psychology until quite recently, for instance in Baddeley’s writing on “working memory”) between verbal and visuo-spatial thought, with verbal of course seen as LH and visuo-spatial as RH. But it turns out, as Laura Otis goes into in some depth in her book, Rethinking Thought, that the visual and spatial are as much separate capacities as the verbal is from either. And Broca’s Area in the LH is as crucial for spatial intelligence as it is for aspects of language. Jackendoff had worked out from linguistic evidence that spatial thought is a separate capacity, even ahead of neuroscience’s discovery of this.

    A mention by Jackendoff led me to finally read sociologist Erving Goffman’s book, Frame Analysis. Goffman doesn’t write of spatial paths in so many words (indeed the book is from 1973), but brilliantly examines the structure and the stagings of our verbal presentations, emphasizing that they are far less about “information” than about, if I may roughly paraphrase him, relating the paths we have taken, and present ourselves as taking, and especially the quite-varied “I” as teller and subject of our stories.

    A crude reading of McGilchrist suggests there are two “I”s, one quite verbal but blind, one more perceptive but mute, rather along the lines of a true self masked by a false persona. This is seductive (certainly to me), but may be an example of, as it’s said, there being a solution to every complex problem which is simple … and wrong. Nor should I suggest McGilchrist intends to promote that reductive conclusion. Rather, we might ask from McGilchrist’s marshaled evidence how to bring language back into the subtle service of “the master.”

    In that, looking to experts in aspects of language, Jackendoff and Goffman among them (along with the cognitive linguists in Lakoff’s circle) may take us farther on the trail which McGilchrist has blazed. While we note how deeply Iain despises the Anglo-American analytic philosophers’ emphasis on language; neither Jackendoff nor Goffman (nor Lakoff) are in that tradition.

    So do we want to stop with McGilchrist, just accepting him as if a guru who has attained a full enlightenment, or do we want to go farther, taking him as a scientist and philosopher who has opened a broad horizon for further — and somewhat urgent — exploration?

    For my own focus, it’s largely on implications and methods for bringing the spatial more into the mix, which is not quite the same as “visual thinking” in (art historian) Rudolph Arnheim’s framing; but then he didn’t separate the visual from the spatial, as it now appears a fuller analysis requires.