People are fascinated by language. An enormous amount has been discovered about language in linguistics, in computer science, in psychology, in philosophy. Also it bears on human evolution, on political rhetoric, on the enjoyment of poetry and fiction, on the organization of the brain. Language plays such a role in our lives, even sexuality, as we see in the language of swearing.
Language drives thought in the sense that you acquire a lot of your thoughts from other people through language, but thought is not the same thing as language. Stretches of sound that we call sentences have meanings and those meanings themselves are part of a huge database of our understanding of the world and reality and ourselves. Language is just a tip of the iceberg of what's going on in the mind. With language we can identify two sentences that have the same meaning, we can identify a single sentence that has two meanings; In order for a given sentence to have two meanings there have to be meanings that are separate from the sentences themselves, and we often know that words can be inadequate to the thoughts that we have. We struggle to put our thoughts into words.
Language help us express our intentions with the words we say. probably because language has to do two things at once; it has to transmit content, a promise, a proposition, a command; and at the same time it's got to ratify or change a relationship type because people aren't just modems downloading information into each other's brains. We always have a social relationship with the person we're talking to and the content of our conversation can affect that relationship.
Metaphors are a fundamental part of language, It's hard to find a passage of everyday speech that doesn't contain them. For all of the brilliant abstraction that the human mind is capable of—philosophy and law and science and government and so on—is it all a cooping of mental structures that are concrete and physical; and is metaphor a fundamental mechanism that allows us to apply Stone Age ways of thinking to abstract subject matters?
I often ask myself the question: does language save us from ourselves, in effect, in our instinctual ways? And the more I think about the answer I approach the following solutions: Yes, and not just language but what language reveals. That is, the metaphor that we see in language I think is like analogical thinking that we put into scientific understanding. The combinatorial rules that we see in language are like the combinatorial rules that build up complicated thoughts. So it's not just that we negotiate these new social arrangements and new knowledge via language, which of course we do, but in addition language gives us a hint as to what's going on beneath language, which has to be at least as complicated as language.
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