Recent work in philosophy, psychology and artificial intelligence has suggested a [...] picture that rejects the idea that languages are stable abstract objects that we learn and then use. According to the alternative “dynamic” picture, human languages are one-off things that we build “on the fly” on a conversation-by-conversation basis; we can call these one-off fleeting languages microlanguages.Well, yes, we can I suppose. But how do we learn these microlanguages? It surely helps to know some other microlanguage already, to have had other conversations before. More specifically, here is Ludlow's example:
suppose I am thinking of applying for academic jobs and I tell my friend that I don’t care where I teach so long as the school is in a city. My friend suggests that I apply to the University of Michigan and I reply “Ann Arbor is not a city.” In doing this, I am not making a claim about the world so much as instructing my friend (for the purposes of our conversation) to adjust the meaning of “city” from official definitions to one in which places like Ann Arbor do not count as cities.This reminds me of p. 234 of this essay by James Conant, in which he discusses Frege's sentence "Trieste is no Vienna." It isn't news that we can do things like this with language. Nor that we can break language into parts and call them something, be it microlanguages or language-games.
I don't mean to reject what Ludlow is saying though. Apart from this invitation to invent counterexamples:
If word meanings can change dramatically during the course of a single conversation how could they not change over the course of centuries?(Compare: "If whether I'm alive or not can change dramatically during the course of a single conversation how could it not change over the course of several decades?") For the most part I think I agree very much with Ludlow. And as ever with articles in The Stone the main problem might just be with the task he has taken on of explaining complicated issues and ideas in simple terms. But I hate the thought that an idea is only valuable when recent work in some kind of science has suggested that it is true. If people insist on thinking like that then maybe they deserve to come late to what has long since been pointed out.