Mental representation in phonology: a case study in the philosophy of cognitive science

Avni Burak Erbora

Cognitive science is first and foremost an interdisciplinary field, where research is based fundamentally on the idea that minds process information - that the brain is a biological computer. Cognitive scientific disciplines, on the other hand, are referred to as such because their field of study relates to the notion of information processing one way or the other. Psychology, linguistics, and computer science are all such disciplines. However, even though in an interdisciplinary study, cognitive scientists from various disciplines work in collaboration and look into the work of other disciplines to compare to their own work – the disciplines themselves are not united in terms of terminology, literature, traditions and concepts they make use of. Furthermore, with the idea of information processing also comes the idea of representation – and all of these disciplines make use of the concept of a mental representation. On the other hand, philosophers who defend representational theories of the mind usually point out the empirical success of the cognitive sciences, and claim that the representational theories of the mind are vindicated by such success in sciences that assume mental representations. The belief here, therefore, is that the notion of representation that is being used in the cognitive sciences is in fact the same notion that the philosophers use in their articulation of the representational theories of mind. The aim of this thesis is to intensify that belief, and it will focus on the phonology field of linguistics for an inquiry. The central claim will be that one can find the philosophers’ conception of mental representation in the actual practice of phonology – and that a phonological representation as it is conceived of by linguists is a mental representation precisely in the sense that the philosophers use the term.