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The Purpose of Language

A book I’m currently reading quotes the well-known linguist Charles Fillmore as writing

the language of face-to-face conversation is the basic and primary use of language, all others being best described in terms of their manner of deviation from that base… I assume that this position is neither particularly controversial nor in need of explanation.

If only it were so. Uber-linguist Noam Chomsky said in a talk I attended that language is not “for communication.” I’ve never been quite sure what he meant by this, so I decided this was a good time to find out.

Googling turned up this interview, in which his statement is much more mild. He seems to simply state that to the extent language is used socially, it isn’t always for the purpose of communication. I can get on board with that.

This other interview, however, makes a stronger claim. Here is a representative quote:

If human language has a function at all it’s for expression of thought. So if you just think about your own use of language, a rather small part is used for communication. Much of human language is just used to establish social relations. Suppose you go to a bar in Kyoto and you spend an evening talking to your friends. You’re not ‘communicating’. You’re rarely communicating. You’re not presenting them with any information that changes their belief systems. You’re simply engaged in a kind of social play.

Perhaps. I’m still with Fillmore that this seems to be derivative on communication, but I’m not even sure what kind of evidence could be found that would favor one position or the other.




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11 thoughts on “The Purpose of Language”

  1. The mind is responsible for human behavior. It is wholly linguistic by function. There are, by definition of a thing and the division of life support systems of the body, two and only two primitive branches of language; Logics, such as common grammar and mathematics, etc., and Analogic. Logics are indexing systems for analog content. Language is the way in which the mind virtualizes the environment to do its biologically defined job as a life support system. It is comprised of indexing systems and the analog content indexed.
    Language is effected as standards of behavior and and standards of behavior is called Law.
    In order to demonstrate the relationship between logic and analogic, I have been posting a new analog language on the Internet Archive. A Universal Language. Part of that demonstration is how this analog language is used as BAM, Basic Analog Mathematics.

    The purpose is the minds and that purpose is the same as any life support system, its method Language.

  2. Italian language schools in Italy
    Choice of a number of foreign students today, Italian is an interesting language spoken by 70 million people across the world. The University for Foreigners, Siena, is one institution that offers internationally recognized certificates in Italian language course. The other institution is “Accademia Italiana di Lingua” (AIL) in Florence. This institution in Florence also offers similar official certificates. CILS certificate is issued after passing the various levels of exams in Italian as a foreign language.

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