Value Unit 03

Value of Words

What is a word?  What does it mean to “give me your word”?  Words are signs; they are not the thing in themselves, but signs which point to the thing in itself.  Similar to signposts on the highway alerting you to the direction and distance of the next town over, words are signposts to the location of a reality.  According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, one can not truly know the meaning of a word unless they can accurately define it!


Key Terms: Words

The study of words and language is covered in many different academic disciplines, such as linguistics, philosophy, philology (less common today), semantics, and more.

Origin of Language?

Many of us grew up believing (and even being taught in school!) that language developed in “caveman” times during which one cave man would point to something and utter a sound (“Rock!”  “Meat!”) in order to convey meaning, and so language was born.  This theory of the origin of language is called the “ostensive” theory, whereby language is thought to originate from pointing to things and naming them.


But this doesn’t seem possible; the famous Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein illustrated that this seemingly simple task of uttering a sound to stand as a sign for some other reality, to be conveyed to another with the same meaning, is remarkably complex and already involves a sophisticated use of syntax.  In other words, the ostensive theory of language already requires a complex understanding of semantics even before the first word is uttered.

The truth of the matter is this: no one knows how language started!  It is a mystery; one which lead the ancient Greeks to call language a "gift of the gods".


Further Reading

Arthur Miller

"The Crucible"

Introduction to Sematics

Introduction to Linguistics