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Jon Hellevig
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No Languages, Only Language Practices

I stressed above that we need to recognize that speech corresponds to real physical acts of behavior which are rooted in the biological ability to speak. Language, however, does not correspond to anything physical or biological, and merely represents perceptual abstractions humans form based on their experience of verbal behavior. - Thus there are no languages. There is no language, there are no languages, there are no words, there is no grammar, nor is there any syntax, in the sense that there are physical objects with mass and energy. What are thought of as languages are fundamentally language practices, that is, the more or less uniform style of verbal behavior of people that communicate in close proximity with each other by imitating each other's verbal behavior. By the concept 'language' we should thus refer to various language practices such as, for example, 'English,' 'French, 'Finnish,' and 'Russian.' We may speak of language practices of any community that we chose to study, and present the language practices of people in a given village, a given suburb, of a given age in a given place, of a given professions, social standing etc. When we speak about 'language' in the generic sense we refer to all language practices at once, without an effort to differentiate between the various language practices. We shall note that as language practices are only perceptual abstractions, then we can never identify what exactly a language practice consists of and how we should delimit it. This is, of course, a blow to the people raised under the ideals of the misconceived "scientific method," who dream of being able to identify specific "languages" and their perceived thingly elements with the precision of mathematics. We just have to live with the fact that language practices are amorphous social phenomena, which we may only describe to the best of our satisfaction. When we attempt to describe a particular language practice, then we may only identify the contours of the grand phenomena and the detailed aspects we perceive to the extent we need to identify and interpret them. But the real scientific insight is, that nothing exact will never correspond to the perceptions one or another observer may form on these phenomena. All the descriptions and interpretations we make on language practices must remain subject to our stated assumptions for narrowing the field of reality.



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© 2017 Jon Hellevig