Taboo the word "word", and what does your question become?

A word is already partly a thing-in-the mind, and partly a thing-outside-the-mind, the latter being a sound when spoken or a string of glyphs when written. Neither the sound nor the glyphs are, or contain, meanings. If you define "word" to mean the whole arrangement, including the meanings, then you have merely answered the question by definition: meanings are contained in words. The same is true if you define "word" to mean just the sound and string of glyphs: meanings are not contained in words. This method of answering a question is incapable of being a discovery about the world.

So the question becomes "what is the relationship between the sound and the meaning?" The answer is that people learn from the speech of those around them to associate a given sound with a given meaning, and that these agreements are what enable meanings to be communicated. However, there is no necessary connection between the two, and no correlation not explained by the shared history of related languages, borrowings, and a few onomatopoeic regularities. Contemplating the meaning will not tell you the sound that people use to express it, which will be different in different languages. Contemplating the sound will not tell you the meaning, else you could understand every language without learning it.

ETA: I should also have pointed out the third thing that is a part of what can be meant by the word "word": the thing-in-the-world that people are talking about when they use the word. This book may repay study.

BTW, why are you taking a philosophy course on metaphysics?

More "Stupid" Questions

by NancyLebovitz 1 min read31st Jul 2013498 comments


This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.