The Insufficiencies of Language

General Semantics

In this section we will cover:

  1. The difference between Technical Terms vs Non-technical Terms,
  2. Speaker vs Listener
  3. Statement of fact vs Inference (Guess or Assumption)
  4. Efficient Observer vs Inefficient Observer
  5. Identification
  6. Abstracting

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:

  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • 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.”

they say:

“…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?

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18 Comments

  1. I’d love to see sign language taught to all toddlers. That way we could have a truly universal language. No need to learn a second language as we all would have one. Plus it would limit the hurdles that deaf people face.

    • Except all countries have their own unique sign language, so it wouldn’t necessarily bring us any closer than we are now. To do that you would have to agree on a common language for all, or invent a new one, which is exactly the same as if you were teaching all children to speak the same verbal language.

    • I think we have to go beyond just the language thing.. everyone will continue to speak its own language.., but surely need to use our hability to speak beyond language..

  2. i see in our future a way to connect the picture we can easily create in our mind to a screen , and a picture can speak 1k words . i think that conection its necesary , if we may learn to have telepatic imagination would be great…

    but in any case, any language we learn it might be good if its learned in the way its embeded into the subconcious mind . i learn english by watching tv and doing internet stuff , i’m not sure this is the way to realy connect the words to subconcious mind .

  3. … And what about graffitis? Are they going to be part of the new world. The first kind of expression in Lascaux’s cave in the paleolithic times was primarily essentiel as we could get a sense of proper historical traces. Bones, hand made tools… archeological studies can always find new stuffs but still if all disappear on earth should we use some laser graff in the universe in order to send message for our spatial explorers?
    So many interpretations could be done for words but for man like for dogs the best thing he can do is just pee on walls to say it’s his property; “it’s where I lived It’s where I was”.

  4. It still amazes me how languages were formed and re-formed. I don’t particularly like it when slang takes over however and thus destroys the origin of a respectful language. icariin 98%

  5. Hi, i completely agree with this opinion about language.
    I am a speach and language therapist, i work with children, many of them affected by sensorial disease. I can see evryday the importance of using alternative channels to reach a good level of communication with ourselves first and with other.
    Emotional communication is more significative than every word of every codified language.
    ‘Cause emotional intention is related to the autobiografic facts of every person’s life related with his community. I think emotional communication is similar in every culture. So i consider communication as relation : the expression of our humanity as the first choice in relastionship, coperation and co-creation of better way of living for all the people.
    I believe every one wishes get well and peacefully and getting good vibes with himself and the world outside. If we have good thinking about us we can change the world.
    (Sorry for my english)
    Thankyou

    Pam

  6. There ARE NO BAD WORDS. slang IS language, In no way is it differemt from the original. Simply different. If We hang up on small irrelivent details We comlletely miss the point, and stiffle growth.

  7. Also, Esperanto IS a great politically hidden asset of humankind. Since it is wrongly interpreted as an intent to destroy nationalism, then it is put aside by politicians. Sometimes you need to convey spoken words, since you can not see the other person for sign language. English is NOT the most perfect means to do it. Esperanto is way SUPERIOR to English (and any other “naturally” devloped language) in arguably about 25 very importante issues.

  8. With the technological advances we have today it is very conceivable to have personal translators that we just carry with us or wear on our persons. All languages would be imported into a world database (regardless of region) and people could hear their own language being spoke to them regardless of the language being spoken. Translators and voice recognition has exponentially grown in the last 20 years. Imagine the advancement in the next 20 years.

    This would actually only require people to learn “a language”… Not any particular language. Once the database was implemented new words would just be added as necessary and people could adjust their translators according to their needs and region visited. (This was actually done on Star Trek 30 years ago… Haha)

  9. Interesting discussion, but not surprising for Jaque as he has such a young and pliable mind. Great observations on his part and many of his concerns about the shortcomings of language have been echoed by Chomsky and others. I spend a lot of spare time working with peers to develop meta languages and meta models to support common patterns in business domains, across supply chains, value chains, and amongst stakeholders who wish to map their scenarios to better understand causality and predict future outcomes, risks, and opportunities.

    One of the ways we have begun to address the gaps in communications is to introduce contextual relevance with terms as Jaque rightly pointed out: any term can be interpreted in numerous ways based on a variety of filters. The challenge is identifying the right context for a given situation in order to ensure consistency of perspective from the “speaker” to the “listener”.

  10. Hello,
    I appreciate your concern and was delighted to read the entire piece of content. The language has evolved over time and various technological advancement have resulted in reducing the language barrier which are yet to be demolished. My concern is not with the vocal language itself but the understanding in different fields. Great cities are not possible if the stake holders do not work together and to make this happen every one needs to be share a common goal. This can be communicated but the difficulty which arise due to different understanding among professionals might prevent in fulfilling this goal and results in inefficiencies. How to reduce this gap? Another issue remains with urban planning being a very less know profession as highlighted on
    http://planningtank.com/blog/urban-planning-largely-unknown-profession

    Can awareness about urban planning help in reducing this gap and inefficiencies, what do you think?

  11. Pingback: Ťažkopádnosť jazyka - DAV DVA - kultúrno-politický magazín

  12. Its interesting to know and understand how cities grew. Urban areas and the field is now getting more and more attention. The importance has now been realized also the related fields like geography, civil engineering also playing important role in building cities. Your article really helped. Probably a short video will also add to the usefulness of this information. A similar article with apt information on Concentric Zone Model and Central Place Theory valuable facts and information. Details on other such topics like Sector theory, multiple nuclei theory will add to the quality of content.

  13. Interesting to discover and read this article about the language barrier. I was just having a conversation last night with someone about this subject. I have had numerous epiphanies about different words and their convoluted ness. Such as the word believe. I’ve known for over 20 years it had a connotation of doubt. It came to me one day out of the blue to break it down into syllables. Be lie ve. I found it quite interesting what the middle syllable spells. I started looking at other words and how their definition didn’t line up. Take the word insane. It’s definition is a crazy or bizarre act or thought but, the two words forming the one imply something acceptable. (In Sane) Should it not be unsane . There are many others. Have words been rearranged and meanings changed through the ages to dumb down communication. It may be.

  14. If I remember correctly, the time frame of written language, mathematics, agriculture and cities sprang up 10 to 12 thousand years ago and within a few hundred years. This is based on archeological evidence clearly in plain sight but, denied by the political mainstream scientist’s and media. Megolithic cities around the globe that we are fed to be-lie-ve were built by slaves with hammers and chisels, towing 100 ton blocks into place. There are quarries many miles away that have abandoned stone blocks partially cut that cracked or broke during the process that have clearly undeniable saw marks. We cannot duplicate today what was performed then. We have devolved, not evolved. In particular the language. Take the word believe. It has a canotation of doubt. If you do not know something then you do not know. Whatever you believe is mere supposition, speculation or opinion. What is the middle syllable spell? Is this by design? There are numerous words I’ve noticed to be ambiguous and convoluted. Another, insane. It seems to depict normalcy. Should the word not be, unsane?

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