To delve into the problem of meaning in language, we need to begin with the atomic unit called word. That is, the meanings of words.
What all has been named, as a word? Consider a keyboard. Consider the key ‘G’ on it. There is a point on it at a distance of 1 mm below the bottommost point of the letter G written on the key. Does it have a name? No. Should it have a name? No. Why? You just express it in terms of other fundamental words as – “the point on the ‘G’ key of a keyboard at a distance of 1 mm below the bottommost point on the letter G written on the key”. But there is a word for the computer screen – monitor. And there should be one. So the question arises – what all should be named? What all should have a word?
Firstly and basically, anything that is quite distinct from its surroundings will have a name. But what exactly should have one?
3 criteria –
- If a certain feature is spreading/continuing over (and/or within) an “entity”, that entity will have a name.
E.g. i) ‘patch’ – A patch of blue colour on the table.
ii) ‘arc’ – An arc of a circle is composed of similar things (infinitesimal mini-arcs) spreading over it.
- If there is a set of entities connected to each other, then the whole big entity, till the connection with the surroundings breaks, will be named.
E.g. – i) ‘tree’ – stem, branches, leaves, fruits, flowers all are a connected system
ii) ‘microscope’ – continuously interconnected parts
- Any feature similar to many things will be named.
E.g. ‘top’. The feature ‘top’ is common to a house, a keyboard, a glass etc., as in “top of the house”, “top of the glass”, “top of the keyboard” etc.
Are there more?
Why does something like a word exist? What is the purpose of a word?
There are 2 aspects to this and we will see how they relate to / OVERLAP with the above discussion (what all has been named / criteria for creation of a word).
Firstly, the answer lies in striking a balance between 1) ‘distinguishing for uniqueness’ and 2) ‘collectivism for repetition in usage’. Lets see each of these 2 separately.
- Splitting something into small fundamental general parts.
Consider this sentence – John is in the office. Now consider this naive proposition – why can’t we collect the words ‘John is in’ and call it a single word? Say, ‘JX’, and then express things like –
JX room etc.
to express that John is in the park, home and room respectively? But what if we have to talk the same about Robert, or talk about John in a different tense, or talk about John in a different sense as regards to the office? Then obviously JX won’t work. And hence we need to split JX into John, is & in.
Also, the collection-word would have served a purpose if the collection was getting repeated enough in language, which it isn’t quite so, to the extent of justifying the creation of the one short word. This leads to the next point.
- Collection – one short word for a set of things –
This is obvious. If there is a set of things getting repeated, why keep enumerating every constituent component again and again? Lets have one word like say – office or kitchen or whatever for a “setup”.
Here is the point :
In (1), John, Is and in are those unique yet repetitive parts which can fit in anywhere where called for. This overlaps with Similarity (criteria 3 of yesterday’s discussion).
In (2), the constituents of the collection are spreading connectedly and in a sense of continuum/repetition over the given entity (collection). This overlaps with Connectedness and Similarity-spread (criteria 2 and 1 respectively of yesterday’s discussion).