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v2.1 Reference

Language and Human Understanding

The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought

Human speech and writing reveal our powers both to generalize and to criticize our own procedures. For this we must use words non-mechanically and with a freedom without definite limits, but still allowing mutual intelligibility. Such powers cannot be simulated by any possible physical mechanism, and this shows that human beings in our acts of judgment and understanding transcend the body.

Philosopher, psychologist and linguist are all concerned with natural language. Accordingly, in seeking a unified view, Braine draws on insights from all these fields, sifting through the discordant schools of linguists. He concludes that one extended logic or "integrated semantic syntax" shapes grammar, but without constricting languages to being of one grammatical type.

Language as learnt and speech are both essentially public, geared to a community of language-users. Therefore, psycholinguists should imitate Gibson's treatment of our perceptual system and treat learning and use of language as arising by adaptation to our social and natural environment. Through taking the malleability of the functioning of the brain and its parts to an extreme, grammar has become unrestricted by neurology, limited only by logical and pragmatic constraints.

For Braine, a language is a living thing, both in the development of thought and in conversation. Chomsky has entrenched a static, building-block, model of a language as a code, each lexical item with just one meaning. Yet in our learning and use of language each word develops an indefinite spread of uses or senses adapted to the realities and questions which we have to confront. The idea "one lexical item, one meaning" applies only to formal languages, not to the natural language which extends beyond social life to embrace mathematics, physics and all the sciences, religion and literature.

In rewriting the philosophy of grammar, Braine restores the dynamic conception of language, reuniting structure and communicative function. Grammar, typically through the verb, gives the sentence its "saying" function, the verb being what brings the sentence to life, giving the sentence's other elements their role and force.

About the Author

DAVID BRAINE (1940-2017) was a British analytic philosopher with interests in analytic Philosophy of religion and Metaphysics, who sought to marry the techniques and insights of analytical philosophy and Phenomenology to the Metaphysics of classical Thomism.


"Braine's work is comprehensive and well researched. His original contribution, as I see it, is twofold."—Review of Metaphysics

"This book is a tour de force. At nearly 800 pages, it ranges over a vast terrain of issues about the nature of language. Braine presents a sustained analysis and critique of much contemporary philosophy of language This book's breadth and the depth of material covered make professionals the only appropriate audience."—CHOICE

"This vast, inspiring undertaking is nothing if not utopian. At the same time, it has much to offer anyone who wants more than atomistic analysis, and is prepared to think through what modern linguistics is ultimately about."—John E. Joseph, Language and History

"Braine draws masterfully on both contemporary and historical philosophy... thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary."—Nathaniel Goldberg, associate professor of philosophy, Washington and Lee University

The Catholic University of America Press

9780813235660 : language-and-human-understanding-braine
Paperback / softback
796 Pages
$34.95 USD