1.0 Basic Concepts of Language:
A. Basic Definitions:
i. The Wrong Tradition?
The western Humanist tradition likes to imagine "language" as the dividing line between "animal" and "human". This seems to be because the prime function of language is assumed to be the expression of human ideas and desires.
Like so many western/humanist ideas, this (largely unquestioned)
supposition leads to a whole raft of complex problems -which western
philiosophy itself seems unable to answer.
I do not like the approach which sees "communication" as the main function of (and synonym for) "language".
ii. A Simpler Approach:
In my view,
it is better to separate out the operations of assigning and interpreting "meaning" from the process of language construction:
My approach therefore tends to focus on the difference between "semantic" and "syntactic" aspects of language -and to see another important (conceptual and practical) division between "construction" and "application" of a language.
a. Syntactic and Semantic:
In this (differentiated) approach -a "language" consists of:
- an "alphabet" (a collection of "primitive" objects)
- a "grammar" (a set of rules which allow the construction of compound objects from the basic aphabet)
This is similar to the concept of a System -which consists of:
- a set of states (or basic conditions -like "on", "off" -or "looking green", "looking blue", "looking yellow", etc)
- a set of tranformations (that transform the states from one to another)
"Systems" are usually concidered to be representations of actions and interactions involving objects in the physical universe -while "language" is usually concidered to involve non-physical elements. However, even this is slightly problematic -because it is also common for some people to speak of a "visual language" or a "musical language" -where presumably the elements have both a physical and a mental "presence" (which might be concidered separate from their "meaning")....
b. Construction and Application:
However, presumably, the similarity between a (concrete) system and an
(abstract) language allows the two to be linked in such a way that
allows the language to function as a model for the system.
If this is done -then the characteristics of the language itself can be concidered as representing the "syntactical aspect" while the characteristics of the system it is modelling can be concidered as representing the "semantic aspect" of the language.
In practice, this separation may not be so simple -because if the
language is specifically invented in order to model a specific system
-then the grammar of the language is likely to reflect the
characteristics of the system being modelled. This is why (I concider)
it is important to separate the semantic from the syntactic -in order
to understand the interaction more clearly.
Most people learn their native
language(s) as children -and, in any case, generally learn a language
that has already been developed -so they are not aware of the problems
of constructing a language.
However, the creative artist
can easilly be faced with the problem of creating their own language
-although the implications of the division between the artist who
adopts (and perhaps adapts) a language as opposed to the artist (or
philosopher) who develops their own language seems poorly understood,
even among those who should know better.
Unfortunately, many romantic (avant guarde)
artists seemed to wish to invent their own language and then, without
any serious attempt to explain it properly to the public, complain that
they were poorly understood.
Perhaps there are actually several levels involved:
- -Invention of a language (development of alphabet and grammar)
- -Interpretation of a language (aassigning "meaning" by mapping the language to a system)
- -Application of a language (exploiting the language to express "meaning" with regard to the system involved)
- -Adaption of a languague (modifying the alphabet, the grammar or the mapping)
B. Relating Language to Information and Knowledge:
"Information" has been defined as "The difference that makes a difference".
This is because "information" also involves a mapping between two
physical systems (or perhaps a physical system and a conceptual system
-which could suggest that "information" is the inverse of language).
In practice -information involves a physical system which can change "state" -such that each change of state in the physical signalling system represents a different state in the referenced system. In "Information Theory" the signalling system needs to have at least as many (recognisably) different "signal" states as there are "messages" in the referenced system -otherwise not all messages can be coded unambiguously into signals.
Presumably, "knowledge" adds another layer to the "interpretation process" -because it appears to imply an understanding of the meaning of the message (which had already been coded by the signal).
Surely, the existance of these complex chains of meaning
and interpretation only underline the need to define and specify
exactly which level one is refering to -or operating within.
2.0 Relating Language to Space:
B. Exploring Functional and Procedural Space:
(functions and the unconsious)
(algorithms, language and grammar)
Manila, March 2006