Theories of causation should inform linguistic theory and vice versa [chapter]

Bridget Copley, Phillip Wolff
2014 Causation in Grammatical Structures  
Linguistics has long recognized that causation plays an important role in meaning. Over the last few decades of the generative linguistic project, it has become clear that much of phrase structure is arranged around events (or event-like entities such as situations) and their causal relationships. Reference to causation in this tradition has most often taken the form of a relation CAUSE, with little further elucidation, in effect treating CAUSE as a primitive. This treatment of causation as a
more » ... imitive relation has proved adequate to the task of developing grammatical structures that make reference to causation. But arguably, this hands-off approach to the meaning of causation has obscured potentially relevant details, impeding linguists' ability to consider hypotheses that might yield a more comprehensive analysis of the roles played by concepts of causation in language. Unpacking the notion of causation should, on this view, afford a deeper understanding of a range of linguistic phenomena, as well as their underpinnings in conceptual structure. In this chapter, we show how attention to the variety of existing theories of how causation is mentally represented could advance the understanding of certain linguistic phenomena. In the first section, we review the two major categories of theories of causation, including some of the principal challenges that have been raised for and against each category. We identify in the second section a range of linguistic phenomena that we feel would benefit from a deeper investigation into causation-defeasibility, agentivity, and related concepts, and causal chainsand also speculate on how theories of causation might inform our understanding of these phenomena. Since the linguistic theories make testable claims about cognition, they give rise to potential connections between syntactic structure and cognition. In the concluding section, we express our hope that further investigations along these lines may pave the way for a theory of 1 Thanks to Kevin Kretsch and Jason Shepard for helpful discussion.
doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199672073.003.0002 fatcat:crbd4qko6ndrvegj6dkgdyhp3e