From now and out I will be posting small philosophical dilemmas that can be fun to think of throughout the day. On a later occasion I may add my personal thoughts to the dilemma. I’m using “The 60 second philosopher” by Andrew Pessin for phrasing, a brilliant book!
Putting into words what goes without saying
Language is as important to human beings as it is mysterious. You make sounds and somehow people respond appropriately. But of course only certain sounds, namely the meaningful ones, such as words. And only certain people, namely those who understand your language, who grasp the meanings of the words. So if we want to understand language, we have to know more about what ‘meaning’ is.
The first surprising result is that meaning is abstract. That means that it isn’t a physical thing, and it doesn’t exist anywhere in space. Someone has uttered the word “dog” lets say. The word itself is a physical object, a sound, some vibrating air molecules. A physicist could discover every physical propriety of that object: it’s location, it’s motion, it’s frequency, etc. But it’s meaning won’t be found in these properties. The sound may convey a meaning, but its meaning is not literally found with or inside the sound.
Similarly, the reason you do not understand chinese is not that your ears aren’t working properly. Rather, it’s because ears only detect physical objects such as sounds, and meanings aren’t physical objects. You could have the finest ears around you and you’ll still stare blankly when someone addresses you in Chinese.
But theres another suprising result. Consider the two sentences “It is raining” and “Il pleut”. If you know french then you know that these sentences have the same meaning. But now what language is the meaning in, so to speak? It isn’t English because then the french version would lack it: nor vice versa. So the meaning itself is in no language at all.
Understanding a language thus somehow requires us to grasp abstract things that are not detectable by our senses and which are independent of our language all together. It’s a good thing it’s much easier to do than to say how it’s done!
I find this so interesting! For those of you who wish to read further on this subject I would recommend reading about or writings from Wittgenstein. He has a brilliant so called: ‘Private language argument’. It is really difficult to read, and can be hard to understand, but if you’re interested in the subject I would definitvley give it a shot!
Have a wonderful day!