In this section we will cover:
- The difference between Technical Terms vs Non-technical Terms,
- Speaker vs Listener
- Statement of fact vs Inference (Guess or Assumption)
- Efficient Observer vs Inefficient Observer
General semantics should not be confused with Semantics. Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relationship between signifiers e.g. words, phrases, signs, and symbols, and their denotation i.e. what they stand for.
Technical Terms vs Non-technical Terms
Technical terms are words which have a narrow range, such as Hydrochloric acid. This is a specific term that if said to another person with the relevant background who speaks English, has no way of being misinterpreted.
Non-technical terms are terms (or words) which have a very broad range, such as ‘good‘, ‘bad‘, ‘right‘, ‘wrong‘.
A technical term seems to give precise information, but non-technical terms seem to be subject to our personal interpretation. When we say subject to our interpretation, we mean when we hear or read (sense) these words. More accurately, when the vibrations of sound traveling through the air impact our eardrum and these signals created by the vibrations go to our brain for processing. The brain associates it to past observations and current understanding of its environment, the process involves different ‘filters,’ such as:
- Memories of encountering similar words or situations
Regional Differences and Variations
Suppose a Swedish person is speaking to a local from Dubai, the Swede says:
“It is hot today, what is the weather like there?” The person in Dubai will say:
“It is hot here too.”
Looking at the average temperature in Sweden during summer it is 20-25°C and in Dubai during the summer, temperatures reach 45 °C. Even the sea temperature reaches 37 °C, with humidity averaging over 90%. The highest recorded temperature in Dubai is 52.1 °C. On a neurological level when the Swede says it is hot, this goes through the different filters and the information interpreted in a very different picture. In other words, they mean two different things.
“The message goes in through your ears and comes out in relation to your background.” — Jacque Fresco
If the Swede came from a very hot country, which he visited for several months, he would probably need a sweater back in Sweden. So words can mean different things for different times even for the same speaker.
These type of issues cause a lot of misunderstandings across most areas of discussion. Non-technical terms are subject to interpretation. Aviation tries, but does not get far enough to reduce these errors in all areas, but it takes care of most. When the control tower clears the pilot to land they do not say:
“…the wind is strong but you are cleared to land.”
“…the wind is 100° at 25 knots, you are cleared to land.”
Which means the pilot has to make an assessment if the wind is strong based on the company, airplane and personal limitations. That language is not subject to interpretation provided you speak English.
Paul R Porter, a self-taught economist, attended a banquet in Greece in which he was a guest in and representing America. In a polite manner, wanting to relate to his generous hosts, he said in his speech:
“…you Greeks and we Americans have very much in common. We like to eat, we like to drink and we want to sit around and talk.”
The next day the Greek communist party (KKE) wrote that he insulted the Greeks, calling them gluttons, alcoholics, and gossipers.
Different variations of language exist such as those in different jobs, different time periods, new knowledge (insufficiency of words like ‘sunrise’/’sunset’ whereas Earth rotates instead), new words invented every day (neologism), and in different nations, e.g. a British person will use the word ‘pants’ as a synonym for ‘underwear’; an American will use the word pants for ‘trousers’, ‘jeans’, ‘cords’, ‘sweat pants’, ‘slacks’, ‘shorts’, and ‘parachute pants’. Hand gestures, the body language between cultures, different languages, tone of voice- all of these can cause misunderstandings which are not only embarrassing but also possibly dangerous.
We tend to treat words as if a word is a self-containing center of meaning. It isn’t! Words are sounds in the air or marks on a piece of paper. We give meaning to words. Mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics are languages that are not subject to interpretation. These languages do not have a prejudice towards gender, culture, nationality or religion. If an Argentinian chemist writes down a formula for a product, a Japanese chemist looking at the same formula will turn out the same product. Their beliefs and philosophies of life play no role in this language. Although the product might offend some people (human cloning), the language itself is clearer than other systems in the world today. Now, someone might ask what is the importance of all this?