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Language | Ian Guthridge.com
Ian Guthridge.com

Tag: language

Language: It is all Meaningless

by Ian on May.28, 2009, under Rants

Do words have an intrinsic meaning?  Take a simple word such as tree.  Without context does this word mean anything?  To answer that we first have to create a coherent definition of meaning.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines meaning, as it relates to this subject, as “Something that one wishes to convey, especially by language.”   The key part of that statement is “that one wishes,” implying that a statement, and therefore its constituent words, cannot mean anything on their own.   

You can try to counter this by claiming that definitions constitute meaning. The issue I take with this is that a definition isn’t grounded in anything; it is just another statement consisting of words.  Each of these words has its own definition consisting of more words; each having their own definitions.  A cycle endlessly repeating, never yielding any meaning.  That is, unless it is examined by someone who then provides a necessary context for those words to live, thereby providing them with meaning, albeit only an abstraction of whatever the originator of those words meant. 

Language does not represent thought; instead it abstracts thought.  If it did represent thought, then some fundamental unit of language would have to map in a one to one relationship with thought.  This relationship would be like an ideal hash map, a list of data referenced by unique keys.  Unfortunately like a hash map, given a finite set of keys collisions become inevitable as the set of information increases in size.  So is there an infinite, or large enough, set of unique morphemes, words, sentences, etc. that could theoretically provide us with a truly unique mapping between words and thoughts.

(continue reading…)

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