The shape of language

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by wesmorris, Nov 5, 2003.

  1. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    I can't escape the thought that it seems as I examine words in the english language, their definition is not only context related, but they seem to dissipate upon examination. Apply logic and watch it evaporate into nothingness or change and become limited where people fail to even apply logic.

    It makes me think that many words are conceptually mal-aligned (in practical terms) and a language could be created that would be logically consistent - taking appropriate exception (annoted duly by some modifier) when necessary of course.

    Is there a more logically consistent language, where the concepts are aligned with logic? Is this just a result of my individual interpretation of language which doesn't have actual bearing on the general case? Bah I lost my train of thought. Anyone?
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  3. apendrapew Oral defecator Registered Senior Member

    German is pretty logically consistent. They use a lot of compounds. I've made an observation about the English language that may be of some relevance. The observation is that compound words generally don't sound strange or funny, whereas non-compound words often do. For an example, malfunction, specification, biology, mastication. All the words are structured. They all have some form of hierarchy. The mind subconsciously observes this. Other words like water, oyster, orange, road don't have structures. They're flat. When you don't take them for granted and really examine them, they're weird and devoid, though they may be derived from another romantic language.
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  5. WANDERER Banned Banned


    Should i remind you of the most logical language of all.
    Speaking it, I have first hand knowledge.
    But I don't think I fully understand your point. Offer an exampleog non-logical language.
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  7. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    It's more like this:

    For instance I'm almost positive that the idea of "reality" being illusion is completely moot. You cannot separate yourself from your experience and when you speak of "reality" you're speaking of the scope of your possible experience and as such, there is no point to weighing whether or not it is an illusion.

    But the way our language is shaped, it is a common trapping to ask the quesiton. "is reality real or illusion?" When in fact it's by definition impossible to determine.

    This language, if you examine this aspect of it.. pushes this question to be asked even though it's meaningless. On otherhand it's hard to know it's meaningless unless you ask it.

    The question of god for instance is somewhat retarded, in that the idea is wholly inconsequential. One lives their life as they see fit. The idea of "god" or whatever to stimulate you to act or think a certain way is simply how you choose to live your life and it is by definition impossible to prove or disprove anything related to god.

    The "supernatural" is not a useful term really as all is technically natural. If ESP exists, how is it not natural? Whether it exists or not it is a good question, but there is no questioning that if it did it would or wouldn't be natural.

    Yet the shape of our language inserts this concept into our conceptual inter-relationships and as such we utlize it unless we eventually ask the right questions and realize that term is somewhat pointless or at least of quite limited scope.

    What I'm driving at is that language shapes our minds - LITERALLY. As this is true, it seems that language should be scrutinized intensely and the realization semantic issues more prevalent. At the same time though, people simply reject logic and reason if they do not comprehend it.

  8. whitewolf asleep under the juniper bush Registered Senior Member

    Being fairly fluent in two languages, Russian and English, I can also add that English lacks a few words.
  9. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    It is my impression from having spoken with many multi-lingual people that indeed every language has it's own "shape" so to speak. In some, concepts differ significantly.

    I would theorize wildly that in effect, those people's minds are inherently shaped significantly differently due to the relationships of the languages they know.

    I'm trying to say that the difference in culture is more than just tradition, that the concepts outlined (and their local vernacular usage) by the language literally effect the minds of the members of that culture, etc.
  10. whitewolf asleep under the juniper bush Registered Senior Member

    Ive recently spoken to a man who said that Indian and Russian languages are more in tune with vibrations of the universe (and things of the sort). I'm not sure how much substance such a statement has after you filter away the nationalism.
    I see what you're saying and I think you're absolutely right. I think it goes beyond meaning of each word, to the meaning of sounds.
  11. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Poor old Aristotle tried to logically quantify natural language. First-order logic didn't do the job very well. (But then, people don't even agree on his laws of thought.)

    There are some factors which make natural language less restrictive than logical forms, and at the same time more confusing and less logical...

    Natural languages depend very strongly on context in a way that is difficult to quantify; a statement will inherit context from previous statements even if the previous statement was from another person. Consider:

    "How old are you little boy?"
    "I am five."

    On the most basic note, the sense of identity (that is, "am",) that the little boy uses does not relate to logical identity in any way. In the Propositional Logic, for instance, when you say P=Q, you mean that P is identical to Q.
    The little boy doesn't mean that he is identical to 5, however. He means that he has the property of being five years old. But, since the "am" has a contextual ambiguity about it, this causes a real problem for the Propositional Logic. Look at the following sentences:

    "Two plus three is five."
    "Robert is five years old."
    "A horse's head is the head of an animal."

    That third one blows PL right out of the water, because it says that an object is a set of objects that it belongs to, and PL translates "is" to "is identical to".


    When the boy says "I am five" he means "I am five years old", because he inherits the "I am X units old" from the person asking the question. The "years" is derived from social convention, a very wide context by which we expect people to measure their lives in years. The "How many units old are you" context, however, is borrowed immediately from the question and assumed easily by both speakers.

    Things like this don't work very well with such logical languages as we have; even logical languages are Turing-undecidable, and they are not nearly as complicated as natural languages, which we have so far failed to quantify.

    Most languages have a few words that other languages don't. This is VERY RARELY due to a lack of a fundamental concept... usually it has to do with a cultural specialization which resulted in a single word being invented to describe a complex situation, or a series of words being invented to differentiate a group of things.

    For instance, the German language generally permits compound words in a manner that English generally does not; a "sehenswurdigkeit" is some thing or place that is worth seeing, a "windschirmwascherarm" is the arm of a windshield washer. Technically English doesn't have a single word for these, and must use two or three, but the communication is not diminished.

    On the other hand, when we look at highly technical terminology, one language may have terms that another does not because they are not of concern... the Inuit words for different types of snow, for instance, don't really interest the rest of us because we don't have any technologies that depend on differentiating one type of snow from another.

    Lastly, languages usually have vast differences of idiom, which are the most difficult things to communicate. When a German speaker speaks English using the German idiom, word order and so on, it generally doesn't sound too bad, just a little awkward -

    "Wie geht es dir" is "How goes it to you"

    German uses Time Manner Place for descriptions, so you would say "I am going on Friday by car to the drugstore."

    However, this is probably because German and English are not so far removed from one another in the grand scheme of things. Translating idiomatic expressions from Japanese seems to be a real problem, if you ever get an anime disk and watch it with the English soundtrack and the subtitles on at the same time...
  12. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    "It makes me think that many words are conceptually mal-aligned (in practical terms) and a language could be created that would be logically consistent - taking appropriate exception (annoted duly by some modifier) when necessary of course."

    Maths as a language that is logically consistent perhaps?

    You arent saying anything new, but the question is open as to how much the different languages affect how their speakers think.
    WE rely upon the illogicality in language for such things as poetry and dealing with new things.
  13. curioucity Unbelievable and odd Registered Senior Member

  14. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    I'm with you actually... BUT how do we do that on sci!?

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  15. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    your hedular largeness: great post.
  16. Yes Registered Senior Member

    The only logical language is mathematics.
    Spoken and written laguage always rely on mutual understandings of irrationality.
  17. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    As far as I understand it (which is quite limited, admittedly) Latin is logically consistant.

    There are a few people on this forum that speak Latin (if I remember correctly, Jerrek does).

    Maybe they will read this and share their opinion on it.
  18. thefountainhed Fully Realized Valued Senior Member

    It would be impossibe for humans to communicate only in a logically coherent language. Most of the things we experience are only communicable through the illogical. While it is true that one can say that this communication through the illogical is the function of the very langauage at use, it is also true that all illogical experiences therefore once expressed in a logical language merely amount to the "experience" was illogical or couldn't have occured. I think language evolves to fit our current being. It is therefore the natural progression of a development with its roots at our betterment or survival as groups.
  19. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Yes said:
    Mathematics is a dialect of the more basic language called Set Theory; set theory is not 100% perfect because of the self-referential set problem.

    There are many logical languages; in my previous post I mentioned the Propositional Logic, which you may know in its more modern form of Boolean Algebra - which is not mathematics.

    C, BASIC, or other computer programming languages are also logical languages that are not mathematics.


    A language is only logically consistent if it contains no ambiguities... allow me to demonstrate with an example from school:

    Consider the sentence "Everybody loves somebody sometime."

    This could mean that:

    1) Each person has some time of their own at which they love a specific person of their own.

    2) At some specific time, which is the same time for everyone, each person loves some specific person of their own.

    3) Every person has some time of their own at which they all love some specific person (like Crispin Glover).

    4) At some time, everyone will love some specific person (like Crispin Glover).

    This sentence is extremely ambiguous with regards to its references. As such it cannot be expressed as a single sentence in some perfect logical language; at best it represents a set of sentences.
  20. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    I've thought about that too, a language that consists of meanings and not words maybe? So that there isn't any misunderstandings.

    I've noticed that if you repeat a word enough times without meaning anything with the word, then the word looses it's meaning and look illogical.

    For example:

    Through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through, through.

    The brain starts to break up the word into smaller pieces and the word becomes totally illogical (for a while), thr ough or thro ugh.

    In a completly logical language every letter should express each part of the meaning of the word (so that each letter of the word actually builds the meaning of the word).

    If we let each letter have it's own colour (to represent what you feel) and shape to represent a logical symbol of the meaning of each letter...a kind of intuitive language that people would understand without learning it. That would be nice cause that would be like a international language (even without the purpose of making it so), the spoken word needs some kind of meaningfullness also if the circle should be complete, but that would be very hard since we need to know what significance a sound could have to describe a meaning. I do think that the sound can describe feelings though, so the sound can serve as a "feeling" guide, and like the written word each sound in a "sound-sentence" should have it's own meaning that will be used to build up what you mean. Then we have to experiment with how sounds trigger feelings and if a certain sound triggers the same feeling for everyone.
  21. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I have to disagree with that statement.

    I could state:
    A + B = C - D

    There are quite a lot of values you could place in that ambiguous mathematical statement to make it true.

    Does that make it logically inconsistent?

    Even if it DID, that wouldn't mean that the language was logically inconsistent, simply that expression is.

    The same applies to the expression you used as an example.
  22. Kami Registered Senior Member

    okay i resent people suggesting that we multi-linguals have differently shaped heads. but from what i understand you are asking for the most "logical" language or at least more "logical." i'm assuming that this means the language that sticks best to the rules and/or is simplest. english is notorious for breaking rules, but that's why it's the lingua franca now, you can speak it badly (sic) and still be understood.

    i can only speak for the languages that i know and i think that's why others are saying german, russian and latin. those are all very complicated languages, and many rules are case specific making it even more complex. greek has nine cases, three main ones and then combinations of the three. but that is sort of logical. the simplest language that i know is japanese. the writing is horribly complex, but the spoken language is extremely easy. there are no tones that are critical mistakes ("horse" and "mother" in mandarin are one tone apart) and there is only one irregular verb, to be, that i can remember. there are no cases, most of the redundancy is dropped, many definite and indefinite articles can be dropped (you can say, "hungry" and have it mean , "i am hungry", or add "ka" to make it "are you hungry". "ka" is a general question word.

    so there's my 2ยข worth.
  23. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member


    QL, which is a logical language designed for quantifying natural languages, fails to derive a single sentence from the expression that I gave. This is not the same thing as algebraic substitution, because

    A + B = C - D

    does not change as an expression when you change the values of A,B,C,D. All that changes is the truth value of the major connective - for example:

    Let A = 2, B = 5, C = 10, D = 8

    A + B = C - D is true.

    Let A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 5.

    A + B = C - D is false.

    That's it.

    The reason why "Everybody loves somebody sometime." is ambiguous is this: Let's turn the sentence into an expression in QL.

    Let P(x) = x is a person
    Let L(xy) = x loves y
    Let T(x) = x is a time

    (Given my lack of ASCII knowledge I am forced to use the following notation:
    A = Universal quantifier (for all)
    V = Existential quantifier (there is)
    * = AND
    -> = implies

    So we can say:

    There is some x, and there is some y, for all z, where x is a time, y is a person, and z is a person, such that z loves y.

    ("There is some time where one person is loved by every person.")

    This is written as VxVyAz((T(x)*P(y)*P(z))->(L(zy))).

    This is a legitimate quantification of "Everybody loves somebody sometime." because it states that at some time someone is loved by everybody. However, what this means is that a single person is loved by all people at some time, which is not what Dean Martin meant in the song.

    As soon as you find yourself saying "that's not what I meant", that shows up the ambiguity in a language. When we look at the mathematical expression:

    A + B = C - D

    There aren't any mathematical values that you can substitute for A,B,C, and D to make someone say "That's not what I meant." They don't change the meaning of the sentence, only whether it is true or not. Even if someone said:

    Apple + Banana = Coconut - Dachshund

    The statement would only be false. But "Everybody loves somebody sometime" can refer to totally different relations between groups of people without changing the words.

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