Jon Hellevig
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Speech and Language
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Evolution of Speech
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Biological Paradigm
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Infinite Variances
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In this book it is stressed that words do not mean anything in themselves, and that instead people mean (express meanings) with the words they use. Words, i.e. verbal symbols, and other linguistic particles, e.g. phonemes and morphemes (to which I refer as verbal symbolic devices) are, however, in language practices employed to a certain degree in a uniform fashion. In language practices verbal symbols (including verbal symbolic devices) are assigned meanings as they are employed and correspondingly people take them to mean something based on their observations of this use of verbal symbols. As one person uses these symbols in imitation of how other people have used them, then it is as if the verbal symbols would have meanings in themselves. We kind of copy the meanings we have experienced. And in this sense linguists are justified in tentatively identifying meanings in words. But this only insofar as the linguist understands that these verbal symbols in reality do not have any absolute or inherent meanings in themselves. The study will thus yield a description of what kind of meanings verbal symbols have been assigned in various contexts, or what kind of meanings they have been taken to carry.

We also have to consider the question of meanings at the level of grammar (or syntax), that is, on the level of combination of the various verbal symbols and symbolic devices. Chomsky and like-minded linguists have made a pseudo-science out of the question whether grammars have meanings or whether they are meaningless. Whereas I understand and respect the idea to try to identify meanings (in the sense that I explained it above) of verbal symbols and symbolic devices, I do, however, propose to reject the whole idea as misconceived in relation to grammar (syntax). This because, as I point out, grammar is (when correctly performed) merely a description of meaningful statements. Grammar as such cannot be said to be meaningful or meaningless, rather the whole question is meaningless. People mean by their statements in the contexts that the statements are produced and with the verbal symbols that the statements consist of. Certainly the arrangements and combinations of the symbols also serve to convey nuances of meanings, but these nuances may be expressed in infinite variances and can therefore not in any way be regarded as functions of the grammar (syntax). To note, that not to any lesser degree than those verbal symbols that can be depicted with the alphabet, meanings are also expressed by a lot of other aspects of speech and verbal behavior such as intonation, strength of voice and a host of other bodily expressions. Therefore if the study of grammar from point of view of meanings would make any sense, then it would have to include all these other aspects of speech and verbal behavior as well. And this would be an impossible task by the methods of precise science, instead these issues may only be alluded to and explained by examples.

In reality meanings are produced in the brain/body as functions of neural processes of interpreting verbal stimuli. This is why each word is always understood uniquely by each person in general, and by each person in any particular moment of life. Thus neural processing of the stimuli that originate in verbal symbols represents always a private, unique and everchanging phenomenon. This naturally means that a word does not, and cannot, represent an objective meaning, as the meaning is created (interpreted) in the body by each unique act of mental processing.

The conclusion that words do not mean anything but people mean by words should of all the ideas presented in this book become the one with the most general and immediate implications. This recognition should fundamentally change our attitude towards so-called facts and knowledge. With the belief in the hypothetical meanings of words should also go the belief in certainty, the idea that by words some inherent and infallible truths could possibly be revealed. This fallacious idea should be replaced by the recognition that words, utterances, phrases etc. represent merely interpretations of the narrator's feelings - and nothing more certain than that.

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© 2017 Jon Hellevig