It is one of our most preoccupying problems at this time, I feel.
While I became very interested in our problems with money, which are at the forefront of our collective consciousness at this time, it is my observation that our problems with money are intricately linked to our problems with our language, and that THIS observation is not receiving as much attention as it could, or should, for evident reasons.
Because... talking ABOUT language is not an evidence. It requires being in a particular place in order to see what is going on. And most of us, well, we simply are not at that place, and maybe it is not such a good thing to be at that place. As I have said before, there is a price to pay for being at that place, and it can be very high.
It is important for me to try to transmit to my readers what I feel are insights towards understanding where we are, at this point in our civilization, and what this means for.. where we are going.
A word of warning here. Much of what will appear here will appear... deceptively obvious and evident. The problem is that we can perceive obvious things WITHOUT drawing out all the conclusions that come from these obvious observations. We compartementalize our knowledge. It is not easy at all to start drawing out the conclusions from some of these observations.
Because we are too close to what is going on, what is happening, to see what it means for/to us.
Quick recap on the previous posts :
I demonstrated at the atomic level of language, the phonetic level, how we create meaning at its most elementary level by determining difference between sounds against a backdrop of continuity : bat/bet/let. We hear the difference between the "a" and the "e". Then the difference between "b" and "l". We are constantly OPPOSING AND COMPARING discrete elements to determine difference and CONSTRUCT meaning from that difference.
I told you that a child of 2-3 ALREADY knew the structure of his mother tongue without ever having cracked a book, and that he was capable of understanding the incredibly complicated "idea" of linguistic "representation" : the word is a kind of symbol for WHAT he is talking about. It is a generalization that PERMITS us to TALK ABOUT our world... (not just, but we won't go into that here).
I said that all of this knowledge remains at a very unconscious (...) level, and that what is at an unconscious level determines us WITHOUT our knowing that it is determining us.
So... today we are going to talk about the lexic, the molecular level of language.
On to the four year old.
He has a basic vocabulary at his disposition.
He has never opened the dictionary, but he knows what at least 300-400 words mean.
HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT THE WORDS MEAN ?
Not... what do the words mean, but HOW DO WE KNOW, LEARN ?
That one is pretty easy, isn't it ?
We learn what the words mean.. by listening to other people around us use the words.
If you learn a foreign language, you will ALSO use this process (in addition to your books...).
Our first ideas about what the words mean come from our observation of how other people are using them.
And once again.. we will be comparing, and differentiating.
We will be listening to how different people use the same word, for example. And comparing what the words mean FOR THEM.
Something else in the comparison game...
We will be comparing the words BETWEEN THEMSELVES, just like we compared the individual sounds, to DIFFERENTIATE THEM.
Look, to know the difference between "bat" and "bet".. I compare and OPPOSE the sounds/..words.
Let's take a word that you probably never looked up in the dictionary....
You never had to look that word up in the dictionary, did you ? People RARELY even look that word up in the dictionary.
So... let's look at HOW it means.
Let's compare it.
WHAT are we going to compare it with ?
Remember that with our phonemes, AT ANY ONE TIME, we will be comparing it with ONE OTHER ITEM.
A more historically recent one.... man/machine
Are you impressed yet ?
Do you think it's as awesome as I think it is ??
All those contexts... for sure I haven't exhausted them at all. This is just a start.
All those OPPOSITIONS layered up, INTRICATED, make up the meaning of the word "man". For us. And.. the oppositions are a RELATION. And this relation is constantly shifting. The words MEAN in relation to EACH OTHER, and they are constantly bouncing off each other, their meaning being subtely inflected.
So... this is HOW the word "man" means, and how we discover and understand what it means.
REMEMBER... if you take a word OUT of the system, or stick a new word IN... ALL of the words will have to be redefined in relation to each other... (Do you see where I'm going, and why I say this ?? ;-) )
And we do this... from INSIDE the SYSTEM of language.
It all means... from INSIDE the system.
And the system.. well, we only have the illusion that the system is in relation with our natural world, I believe.
And WE, well WE have to find our SYMBOLIC place WITHIN this system.
It's not a piece of cake. Not at all.
Because... there is a big problem.
Our bodies. US.
Are our bodies... IN THE SYSTEM ? Outside of the system ?
Between the inside and the outside ?
Big questions, big questions...
Now think about... the polarization that is going on in our society at this time. The OPPOSITIONS between liberal/libertarian, for example..
We are desperately trying to redefine meaning at this time.
One of the ways we redefine meaning is through... POLARIZATION.
I will come back to this. It is very important.
By the way.. for ME, at any rate, what Freud called the Oedipus complex figures in my post above. Knowing what "man" means, supposes knowing what... "child" means.
IN OUR CULTURE. In almost all cultures, probably, even if their INDIVIDUAL DEFINITIONS differ from culture to culture.
There is a universal phenomenon involved in KNOWING WHAT THE WORD "MAN" MEANS.
After that... the definition itself, well, that can change from culture to culture, and from historical period to historical period.