First, from the point of view of human beings, the definitive definition of the term, 'language' is: "Language is the attribution of meaning to linguistic symbols."
No linguistic symbol possesses an inherent meaning. Relative to human beings, "meaning" is a function of the brain and relates to our perceptions and conceptions of an assumed (rightly so) physical reality. In reality, there is no meaning in the printed or uttered symbol. Meaning is bounded by the confines of the assumed physical brain. Only conventionally, i.e., by agreement, may we speak of "words" having meaning. Our dictionaries do not give us meanings. Rather, they record the evolutionary past, present, and slang USAGE of words.
Consider the admonitions of the great minds of history that our teachers so disgracefully ignore teaching our students WHAT to think in preference to HOW TO THINK, consequently contributing so much to the miseries of this world .
Language is no more than crudely acquired before children begin to suffer from
it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it. Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?
The failure to consider language explicitly has been a cause of much that is bad in traditional philosophy.
Vague and insignificant forms of speech, and abuse of language, have so long passed for mysteries of science and hard and misapplied words, with little or no meaning, have, by prescription, such a right to be mistaken for deep learning and height of speculation, that it will not be easy to persuade either those who speak or those who hear them, that they are but the covers of ignorance and hindrance of true knowledge.
1689, John Locke
To have experiences is one thing, to talk about them is another.
The following three quotations are from A. E. Mander's book, Logic for the Millions.
The trouble with most folks is not so much their ignorance, as their "knowing" so many things which ain't so.
He who cannot reason is a fool; he who will not is a bigot; he who dare not is a slave.
Every argument that has been used to justify the teaching of grammar may be applied with greater cogency to the teaching of logic. If it is desirable that a person shall speak correctly, it is much more desirable that he shall think correctly.
Updated: Oct. 11, 2001
Why is the world in such turmoil?
Why do normal people fight, disagree, war, divorce, hate, fear, kill, murder?
There is, of course, no simple answer to these questions.
There is, however, a major contributing reason why civilized people do these things.
It is our lack of understanding the language we use as our basic tool for interaction and communication.
If we would learn how we misuse language and how language is used to manipulate us, human relations would improve and world turmoil would decrease immeasurably.
Consider the source of the meanings we attach to the language we use.
A newborn baby began acquiring experience of the world, passively, within its mother's womb.
It first experiences sounds transmitted from the external world through fluids in the fetal sac.
As is the case with lower animals, it has no idea what or that it is learning, even not for many months after it is born.
In this sense, it is no more a person than is an ape, a cat, or a dog even on the day of its birth and for many months thereafter.
For a few years, it continues to experience the world, passively, in its myriad manifestations, experiencing what is physically pleasurable as opposed to painful.
Soon it becomes actively aware of its external environment but not yet aware that it is aware.
It does, however, experience frustration when it's needs are not satisfied.
Satisfying those needs is usually accompanied with cooing language.
Aside from medical-staff comments, the first external sound a newborn child hears is probably its own voice.
It begins to hear spoken sounds immediately.
Its learning language has begun.
Probably the first language it hears, aside from, "It's a girl," or "It's a boy," are "My God, what a beautiful baby."
It is not yet capable of giving meaning to these words.
In the initial stages of learning words, as the child is nurtured, it responds much the same as a dog or cat will to sounds, sensing no denotative meaning, related to its perceived aura of pleasantness.
The repetitive pleasing experience stimulates a process of imitating the sounds. It is only later that the conditioned association of sounds to physical objects evolves into a denotative "meaning" of those objects.
This process, of learning to use words and forming them into sentences as the relationship of words to other words is experienced, continues as the meanings that the child's parents and its society wish it to attach to the words it will use the rest of its life.
Ever has it been the case as its grandparents gave those meanings to its parents and so on retroactively to the "first" grunting parents who thought that every twirl of each individual leaf on trees was caused by some invisible supernatural spirit.
Only the evolution of language, acceptance of diverse interpretations, "educational" processes, and one's own creative experiences, interfere with those inherited meanings.
To the degree that those are lacking (and even when they are not), to that degree we continue to use, to put a twist on Socrates, unexamined language.
Few of us give thought to the sources of the meanings we give to the words we use.
We inherited most of them from our ancestors.
We, in turn, like parrots, continue unthinkingly to use their language.
Consider this: Dogs, lower animals, make sounds, but cannot make sounds about their sounds; e.g.; dogs do not bark about their barking.
Lower animals are aware of their immediate environment, but not of the mental activity going on in their minds, i.e., their mental experiences.
To the extent that we make sounds and/or symbols and are not aware of the meanings or the truth values attached to them, our behavior is little more than that of lower animals.
Language can work to our advantage or to our disadvantage.
Abused, it is our enemy.
Used with care, it is our friend.
Which it will be depends upon one's attitude about language.
If we accept language at face value without having acquired an inquiring attitude about how it can help and how it can harm, we are doomed to be victims of those who choose to use it for their own advantage.
SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS
© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella