On Language

Abstract of “On Language”

What is language? What is it’s purpose? What laws govern it? Do individuals learn language by “pragmatic” means, as a result to a social/applicational end? If so, what quality of vocab do they have? And what source do their definitions derive? What determines a good definition? What benefit to other languages contribute to a language? These questions concentrate focus on man’s understanding of the methodology of communication – the “vehicle” of interaction in society. Why are human definitions not absolute? And finally, what is Truth?

Zach Baldwin

Kingdom Society research

December 7th, 2013

On Language

1. Defining language

What is language in human society? What is it’s purpose? What governs it? I had a professor once who said: “…language is the greatest distinguishing factor of a culture…” It defines people of their homogeneous unit. Noah Webster, in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English language defines language as: “1) Human speech… 2) Words duly arranged in sentences… 3) Speech or the expression of ideas to a particular nation… 4) Style, or manner of expression. 5) (Webster) The inarticulate sounds by which irrational animals express their feelings and wants…” He goes into more depth (for clarity, undoubtedly), but this is a sufficient start for our purposes here. Where did language begin? It is worth making note that my narration in this essay is virtually inevitably going to have presuppositions based on my perception of objective Truth.

In Genesis 1:5, We see God first making use of naming.  He called the light “Day”, and the darkness “night”.  The conclusion can be made that ancient geographical names were defined by God. By this textual evidence, a basic “lexicon” of language names and values attached to them where orchestrated by the LORD GOD.  At Genesis, God uses the catalyst of proximity to man for his naming to begin.  It is conceivable that since God spoke with man excessively during this time (Gen. 2:16-17, 18, 3:3,-19, 4:6-15 *not exhaustive*), that man understood the names and meanings of those names.  Yet, on another level, society formed at the arrival of women (Gen. 2:16).  As a result, it can be conjectured that a “pragmatic” communication began development of much more then just vocal communication.  Thus, body language may have been implemented. We can theorize from this evidence that language was “taught” to man, and development by the fully-developed reasoning mind of man.

2. Catalyst of Society

Language was present before society was present – as God and man were both capable of communication. But “Pragmatic’s” appears to begin to have taken shape here. Elizabeth Bates, in her study entitled “On nature and nurture of language makes this clarification: “Pragmatics is defined as the study of language in context, a field within linguistics and philosophy that concentrates instead on language as a form of communication, a tool that we use to accomplish certain social ends (Bates, 1976) Pragmatics is not a well-defined discipline; indeed, some have called it the wastebasket of linguistic theory.” (Bates)

Definitions are essentially the values assigned to words of a language. Webster defines it this way: “1) A brief description of a thing by its properties… 2) In logic, the explication of the essence of a thing by it’s kind and difference. 3) In lexicography, an explanation of the signification of a word or term, or of what a word is understood to express. Said in another way, definition gives limits or boundaries to a word’s influence or application. Definitions can be the government of words by a couple of ways: distinct, systematic direction and intentional application, or pragmatic, arbitrary goal-oriented means. As a lexicon or dictionary is compiled to contain a large amount of definitions, a words can be defined by other words with more detail and clarity. Words can only be defined by the present amount of knowledge through the capacity of reason in man’s mind. Something cannot be logically used in definition if it is not an understood concept. Interactions in society enabled the development of words as a means of survival, interaction, preservation, and prosperity. Learning was, of course was still possible.

3. Senses

Man had the capacity of his senses. Empirical, and Spiritual dimensions would both be accessible here. Man’s knowledge of what is around him happens by these senses. His empirical, or physical senses, gave in an external, observational understanding of what is around him. Bates demonstrates this concept in a known theory called nativism “…defined as the belief that knowledge originates in human nature…” She states that these idea’s originated from “…Plato and Kant, but in modern times it is most clearly associated with the linguistic Noam Chomsky.” (Bates, pg. 2) But man’s spiritual, or internal sense or reason permitted non-earthly sources to illuminate his mind (IE. God). Bates calls this the second position held.

The second position is called “empiricism”, defined as the belief that knowledge originates in the environment, and comes in through the senses.” (Bates, pg. 2) What is interesting is that his empirical senses do not precede his reason, but information must be mechanically observed/felt/perceived first before the decision to reason from the information is filtered through his reason apparatus. The results of this method of gathering information of knowledge is inevitably going to have an attachment of an individuals personal bias. But information received from an external source is automatically in the mind directly, ready for a more precise filtering through man’s reason. It is my assessment that information (or revelation) received in this way will be regarded with more reverence, regarding it more as a gift.

Revelation can be distinguished from an internally-originated idea, since man cannot originate something without an external stimulus originating it. If revelation can be given to one person’s mind, it is conceivable for revelation to be given to multiple individual’s simultaneously. This can permit the occasion of an individual communicating an idea to another when there was no possible physical origin for it – revelation shared can potentially have little, or even no bias, if it is simply relayed as strait-forward as possible. Genuine divine revelation today, remains a concept understood only by faith.

4. Vocal Speech

The scientific field of the study of linguistics is Philology. The word originates from a number of diverse sources. “Philos” in Greek, means “beloved, or loving” – “logos” in Greek means “word”. This is a body of study that is quite large, and has many subcategories. Vocal speech includes two subcategories: Phonetics and Phonology. Bates deposits that this is “…a body of research on the acoustic properties of speech, and the relationship between these acoustic features, and the way that speech is perceived and experienced by humans.” (Bates, pg. 3) Another name this may use is “phonetics”. By this definition, it is mostly biological, or mechanical, but the perception and experience by humans is a phrase that leads to some deeper potential possibilities.

How do humans perceive, what constitutes experience? Is it explicitly biological? The next body of study within the vocal field of Philology is: Phonology. Merriam-Webster defines this term as such: “1) the science of speech sounds including especially the history and theory of sound changes in language or in two or more related languages, and 2) the phonetics and phonemics of a language at a particular time.” Mandarin Chinese uses a very distinct “tonal” element in their speech. So much so, that pronunciation of a word wrong will produce a very different word. Www. Vocabulary.com defines “enunciation” as “the act of pronouncing words.” Yet, in English, (perhaps due to negligence, and laziness) weak enunciation can still communicate the message, and even if it doesn’t a quick repeat will be sure to convey the message to an attentive listener.

5. Speech in Meaning

The benefit to several subcategories in the sphere of science of the specific development of thought and study of a particular topic. Reason is the place where thought takes place. I define logic to be “a morally-neutral measurement of the consistency of a thing”. “Semantics is the study of meaning in language…” (Vocabulary.com) Bates elaborates on this sub-field, insinuating a further division of categories. Lexical Semantics, “…focused on the meanings associated with individual lexical items (IE., words), and propositional or relational semantics, focused on those relational meanings we typically express with whole sentences.” (Bates, pg. 4) Thus, man can attach a value to a word, and he might attach a separate value to the sentence the word is contained in. An example of this might be: “animal”. The word has a has a meaning, but the sentence brings clarity about what the message trying to be conveyed is. “The animal is large.” Without the noun “large”, the listener might instead understand the noun animal to be referring to it’s geographical location. Or it’s taste to an individual. Grammar, simply stated, is the proper organization of language. Bates elegantly defines this again into two subcategories: Morphology and Syntax. One deals with what might be better known as conjugation, and the other deals with the proper ordering of words in a sentence.

6. Etymology

Earlier in this essay, I stated that something cannot be logically used in definition if it is not an understood concept. Thus, modern languages get much of their rules, and definition from previous languages. Greek, and Latin are the greatest influences of English. But since English was originally a Germanic language, German played a part as well. In fact, Noah Webster in 1808 published his first dictionary as a result of the distinction of language that American’s spoke compared with those from England. This first work was called: A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, and it contained brief definitions of 37,000 words. (Meyer) Of course, these languages adopted much from languages before them. It was a very arbitrary evolution of language. There is one historical case in particular that has greatly shaped Western society. It began with the nation we generically know today as “the Jews”.

7. Divine inspiration

It is very hard to pinpoint the origin of mankind’s all-time best-selling work of literature. Job is said to be the oldest book written of the official cannon, dating as far back to about 1270-1280 B.C. (Bartholomew, pg. 37). But the more interesting elements are said to be written by Moses (Benner). These are the books of the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch. In these contain the accounts of: the creation of the world, the moral laws of God, or the Ten Commandments, and a lifestyle format of worship before God.

Judaeo-Christian Scriptures uses in-direct concepts, and especially in the Old Testament. The Hebrew language was geared more towards story telling, and in this way, parents in the family could pass the stories and history of his people down to subsequent generations. As time progress’, other political powers are permitted to rule and reign for a time. At the time of the king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great, about 356 BC, Persia was the dominant power of the known world, though Greece was a formidable (though geographically small) people to be reckoned with. Alexander loved the language of Greece, and, after conquering it’s territories, carried the language on throughout his epic campaign into literally the heart of what is today India. When He died in 323 BC, his empire fell apart, but the language remained. The preserving “crowning achievement” geographically of Alexander was the city of Alexandria at the tip of Egypt, in the “bread basket” of the Mediterranean. This became the location of the great Library of Alexandria. The Greeks excelled in the art of thought, and contemplation. They conceived of what today is a vast field of study: philosophy.

8. Influencial Presuppositions

The culture of Greece was unique in that while it was so geographically small, so much came from it. The age of thought began with certain individuals: Pythagoras, who demonstrated ideas of Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, and others. Porphyry writes, (through translation by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie), that “…Egyptians excelled in Geometry, Phoneticians in numbers and proportions, and Chaldean’s of astronomical theorems, divine rites, and worship of the gods. Another sect of Hellenic philosophy were “the cynics”. They believed in living a life of virtue, and agreeing with nature. They rejected basically all forms of power in life. Socrates was the author of what is today known as the Socratic Method, which is the basis behind the Scientific Method. These idea’s, though wonderfully powerful in application, result from a very humanistic Greece.

9. Scripture Translation

There was a great number of Jews that took delight in Hellenistic culture, and attempted to merge Hellenistic thought and Judaism. These Jews advanced the message of the Torah of Hebraic Scriptures with philosophical accuracy. But they neglected the premise that the Greeks were not loving of the one true God, but rather of many gods. Never-the-less, the translation of Old Testament was translated into the most-articulate Greek language. And Scripture was seen in far more color and detail then ever could have been before. Greek has number of features that many languages can not express with.

With the entrance of Scripture, the concepts of Justice, Truth, Law, and Poetry found their place in society. After this, Jesus was born in Nazareth – and thus there is the defining distinction of History – BC and AD. Jesus wrote nothing down. Instead, four accounts were written of his life, each from a different perspective, accommodating different audiences. John Barnett describes the different audiences for the different writing styles of the Gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. “…Matthew speaks to the Jews and the deeply religious of their day. They”, (the Jews) “loved their Scriptures and the prophecies of God. They would only listen to one of their own.” Mark had to audience of the Romans. “They knew nothing of the Scriptures but everything of power.” “Luke…”, Barnett says “…was a Greek speaking to the Greeks. The Greeks loved culture, beauty and ideas. Happiness could be found in the pursuit of truth.” “John wrote to the everyone” Barnett writes, “…because everyone needs to meet God and only Jesus can reveal Him…”

10. Knowledge

Earlier I said, words can only be defined by the present amount of knowledge through the capacity of reason in man’s mind. Knowledge is the result of a developed vocabulary by reason. Larry Allen, in his book A Time to Understand, defines reason: “To reason is to draw conclusions back to presuppositions.” Presupposition must also then be defined: “…the name for an idea a person reason from as he forms his beliefs. It is the idea his conclusions are based upon. But the source of information can be direct or indirect. What then, do we call the source of the idea’s that our idea’s are based upon – I call it the PREMISE. The premise must come from outside of ourselves. It is entirely absolute, and objective. Knowledge can be quality, or worthless. Knowledge is simply a collection of data. Data is neutral. When knowledge is directed in a morally correct method, it becomes wisdom. Knowledge is the material, or curriculum. Wisdom, then is the method. The method delivers the material to it’s destination.

11. Faith

Hebrews 11 classically gives a definition of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (ESV) It relies on a “nativistic”, or spiritual sense to function. It can use reason, but it’s premise is God essentially. In fact, logic can even be act work here, measuring and validating data to make sure it is consistent. A.W. Tozer, in his classic the pursuit of God, has something interesting to say in regards to this subject: “In the Scriptures there is practically no effort made to define faith. Outside of a brief fourteen-word definition in Hebrews 11:1, I know of no Biblical definition, and even there faith is defined functionally, not philosophically; that is, it is a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence. It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is.” (Tozer) Faith is a lifestyle, in that living by this “nativistic” premise, we are not dependent on circumstances on a physical dimension (this does not mean live contrary to them) – but rather, a PREMISE that is objective, and absolute. The premise, or ultimate source, is the Philosophy.

12. Truth

Larry Allen defines truth this way: “Truth is the correct description of reality.” (Allen, pg. 65) If Truth is the correct description of reality, then the incorrect description of reality could be deception – based on an equal and opposite reaction. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes this statement of Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) What is reality then? John Locke makes a statement in his Second Treaty of Government: “To understand political power correctly and derive it from its proper source, we must consider what state all men are naturally in. In this state men are perfectly free to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and themselves, in any way they like, without asking anyone’s permission—subject only to limits set by the law of nature. It is also a state of equality, in which no-one has more power and authority than anyone else; because it is simply obvious that creatures of the same species and status, all born to all the same advantages of nature and to the use of the same abilities, should also be equal ·in other ways·, with no-one being subjected to or subordinate to anyone else, unless ·God·, the lord and master of them all, were to declare clearly and explicitly his wish that some one person be raised above the others and given an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. (Locke, pg. 3)

Three elements are essential for Liberty in society: Philosophy, or the reason why. The Method, or vehicle which delivers the material. And the material itself. A Premise, to begin reasoning rightly from, wisdom (being governed by internally-based laws, or policy), and the knowledge, or data that functions on a physical level. These would not be possible without the tool of language.

Works Cited

i Allen, Larry. A Time to Understand. Tyler, TX 75709: Larry Allen, 2010. Print.

ii Bates, Elizabeth. “THE NATURE AND NURTURE OF LANGUAGE.” Diss. University of California, San Diego, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.140.3229&rep=rep1&type=pdf&gt;.

Benner, Jeff A. “Question of the Month – Oldest Book.” Biblical Hebrew E-MagazineAncient Hebrew Research Center, Sept. 2005. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/emagazine/019.html&gt;.

ii “Life of Pythagoras.” Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras (1920).  English Translation. Trans. Kenneth Sylvan Gutherie. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/porphyry_life_of_pythagoras_02_text.htm&gt;.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Ed. Jonathan Bennet. N.p.: Jonathan Bennet, 2008. PDF.

iii Meyer, Freemen, Dr. “Noah Webster’s Story.” Lecture. Oct. 1987. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. Web. 06 Dec. 2013. <https://www.noahwebsterhouse.org/discover/noah-webster-biography.htm&gt;.

Meyers, Rick. E-sword: English Standard Version Bible. Vers. 10.0.7. Franklin, TN 37065: E-sword, n.d. Computer software.

iv Tozer, A. W. “VII The Gaze of the Soul.” The Pursuit of God. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

“Vocabulary.com – Learn Words – English Dictionary.” Vocabulary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <https://www.vocabulary.com/&gt;.

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