On Words and Their Ordering

     At their most basic definitional level words are symbolic units composed of phonemes (or graphemes if we're talking about letters). As those of us who as children concocted a secret language or code are aware, in order to enable interpersonal communication these symbols must be possessed of specific values mutually understood between those with whom the words are exchanged. In order for ‘shagohel’ to convey the idea “dog” to it’s reader or hearer, there must exist common understanding that ‘shagohel’ is the signifier of the four-legged, furry, domesticated Canis lupus currently sunning himself. If this knowledge is not shared then the sentence ‘The shagohel is sunning himself.’ conveys to the recipient no logical meaning, as to the hearer or reader the label ‘shagohel’ corresponds to no known entity.

     While this may seem obvious, in fact it is my hope that no further proof need be offered up to demonstrate this axiomatic truth of using language as a tool of interpersonal communication, once we accept that words are comprised of sets of specifically arranged phonemes which are mutually understood between interlocutors as symbolically designating specific phenomenological aspects of existence, we arrive quickly, and completely logically, at the conclusion there is no one ‘right’ way to label a given thing, the word ‘dog’ being no more or less inextricably foundational to the identity of our furry companions than ‘perro’, ‘hund’, or even ‘shagohel’. An example: in our new fictitious language the word ‘kodak’ represents the idea of the self, ‘I’, while ‘smoothie’ is the equivalent of the present participle phrase ‘am running’, and to speakers who exist in that world the sentence ‘Kodak smoothie.’ is perfectly and reasonably understood to describe a self that is in the processes of running. Though completely absurd to ourselves this is only because each of these labels (‘kodak’ and ‘smoothie’) are already representative of some other definite concept in our language, in this case a film company and a drink made by blending fruit and yogurt.

     Far from being trivial this notion of common labels is the cofounder of any rational discourse, it’s collaborator in this enterprise being that which dictates the logical relationship of words to one another, syntax. Put simply, syntax is the set of rules governing the creation of sentences within a given language based on structure (word order) of the categorically divided types that comprise grammar (noun, verb, adverb, et cetera). For example, ‘It beautiful is.’ violates the English grammatical rule that a linking verb precede the subject compliment which it is connecting to the preceding subject. While the reader may still understand the speaker’s intent this is only because of the simplicity of the example given. If the example had been, ‘Late was bus because, missed he Evan for school.’ a reader or hearer, though they might, because of additional knowledge of the situation in question, or whether because of good guesswork, be able to extract the desired meaning attempting to be conveyed here, is considerably slowed by the lack of obedience to established syntactical rules.

     With regards to rules of syntax, while as theoretically completely arbitrary as the labels used to describe symbolically the world around us, it is an interesting, albeit tangential to my purpose in writing this piece, fact that nearly all languages (87%) are structured using either Subject Verb Object or Subject Object Verb sentence order, and that further 99% of all known languages, to one degree or another, make specific grammatical differentiation between symbols such as nouns or verbs.  These two facts, taken together, suggest that there is either a genetic or social reason (or conflation of the two) for the existence of differentiated grammar and of syntax, particularly the predominant forms of syntax we see exhibited in Subject Verb Object or Subject Object Verb. However it is interesting to note that in Riau, Indonesia the local dialect is completely unspecified, the sole grammatical unit being the sentence, the syntactical structure of which is thus completely non-ordered.  As such, stating ‘The red ball flew over the house.’ is no more correct under such circumstances than ‘Over flew the house the red ball.’

     My (hopefully interesting) digression aside, taken together with the symbols comprised of phonemes encapsulating our understanding of the experienced world syntax forms the basis of language, and the point of language is to organize the world in the mind of the viewer, and further to communicate efficiently those perceptions and ideas about the world to others. So, the question naturally presents itself, just what is an idea  or perception?


To be continued: Ideas and perceptions