Norm Participation Grounds Language

Schlangen, David

The striking recent advances in eliciting seemingly meaningful language behaviour from language-only machine learning models have only made more apparent, through the surfacing of clear limitations, the need to go beyond the language-only mode and to ground these models “in the world”. Proposals for doing so vary in the details, but what unites them is that the solution is sought in the addition of non-linguistic data types such as images or video streams, while largely keeping the mode of learning constant. I propose a different, and more wide-ranging conception of how grounding should be understood: What grounds language is its normative nature. There are standards for doing things right, these standards are public and authoritative, while at the same time acceptance of authority can and must be disputed and negotiated, in interactions in which only bearers of normative status can rightfully participate. What grounds language, then, is the determined use that language users make of it, and what it is grounded in is the community of language users. I sketch this idea, and draw some conclusions for work on computational modelling of meaningful language use.

In Proceedings of the 2022 CLASP Conference on (Dis)embodiment , 2022
  title = {Norm Participation Grounds Language},
  author = {Schlangen, David},
  booktitle = {Proceedings of the 2022 CLASP Conference on (Dis)embodiment},
  month = sep,
  year = {2022},
  address = {Gothenburg, Sweden},
  publisher = {Association for Computational Linguistics},
  url = {},
  pages = {62--69}