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Homo loquens meets homo informaticus: exploring the relationship between language and information
1  St George Hospital Reference Knowledge and Information Services


Homo Loquens meets Homo Informaticus: exploring the relationship between language and information

This paper explores the relationship between natural language and the phenomenon of

information. It argues that the Philosophy of Information can provide a bridge between

linguistics and information science by offering a deeper understanding of how these two

spheres of experience are entangled. Proceeding from the author’s 2002 Foundations of

Information Science Online Conference paper ‘The Phantom of Information’ it first asks the

question ‘How can we best define information’? The author then offers a brief historical

perspective on the Philosophy of Language (PL) and the Philosophy of Information (PI) and

highlights where the two fields overlap and interact. He indicates how the ‘information

turn’ of the 1990’s grew organically out of the ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy. The author

treats the phenomenon of information as a new language with distinctive features akin to

syntax, person, tense, aspect, voice and mood. Specifically he examines Chomsky’s concept

of recursion and redundancy, Wittgenstein’s language as game, Saussure’s langue and

parole, Benveniste’s énonciation, informative illocutionary acts (Austin, Searle), the

semantic approaches of Dretske Floridi and Barwise, Grice’s implicature and Carl Friedrich

von Weizsacker’s ‘inevitable circle between language and information’. He briefly discusses

Terrence Deacon’s recent work in biological anthropology on language and information as it

relates to his concepts of deixis, reciprocal reference and incompletion. Secondly, the paper

indicates how the notion of ‘information’ is embedded in traditional grammar through

adpositions which empower language as a faculty for thought and communication. The

Subject/Object template of historical grammar imposed on all natural languages is reviewed

from the perspective of pragmatics. The notion of ‘information’ itself is traced back (by way

of Capurro’s informatio) to a configuration of ideas and concepts in classical Greek

philosophy, specifically those of Epicurus and Chrysippus – the founder of formal grammar.

Implications for the history and science of information are discussed. Finally, it proposes

future directions for this area of study to explore how our total experience of the sphere of

language and that of information are interconnected within a broader framework of mind. A

distinction between cognition and connaissance is made. The faculty of human language,

once the hallmark of humanism, is now under threat by the omnipresent Datocracy and its

champion, Homo Informaticus. The informed and informing citizen, Homo Informationis, as

defender of the information commons and infoversity, will need to ally with Herder’s Homo

if s/he is to survive. Information philosophers can provide a deeper understanding

of these intriguing twin phenomena necessary for our civilisation.

Keywords: Philosophy of information, philosophy of language, information science, linguistics, semantics