We usually understand language as an accumulation of words.
The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax was based on words; languages are sometimes referred to as richer or more complex on the basis of the number of words they contain; we usually pinpoint the differences between languages as differences on the word level: What is “apple” in English is “Apfel” in German, but it is “pomme” In French!!
This understanding of language is justified because language is the means of expressing our thoughts and thoughts are represented by words: words for tangible things, like “apple”, and words for abstract notions, like “liberty”. However, if every time we wanted to say something, we just uttered the words in any order, then communication would fail.
Remember also the example with computers from yesterday’s post: if language was just words, then why would it be difficult to make a database like a dictionary and just provide the right word every time we need to construct a sentence? Children need to learn the words of their language of course, but is it only with words that they learn when to say certain words.
Which words do you think have multiple meanings or should be simplified?