Ideas Have Consequences: Chapter 8 – The Power of the Word

I did not understand all Weaver was saying in this chapter, but still this was my favorite chapter so far. Here, I think, he does identify a key stronghold for metaphysical, transcendental reality: language. Though postmodernists have tried to diminish language just as the government has messed with private property rights, language is a stronger fortress against encroach than private property, because even God Himself has identified Himself as the Word. Man can claim there is no God, but it only shows that their foolish hearts are darkened, and their claims do not affect reality.

Definitions

noumenal: a thing as it is in itself, not perceived or interpreted, incapable of being known, but only inferred from the nature of experience; the object of a purely intellectual intuition.

suprapersonal: above or beyond what is personal.

semantics: the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc; branch of semiotics dealing with the relations between signs and what they denote.

linguistics: the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics.

Summary

Language is important because

  • “all metaphysical community depends on the ability of men to understand one another.”
  • words do, whether the truth is accepted or denied, express something transcending the moment.
  • “speech is a vehicle of order”; without words there is no thought or insight or connections or naming.
  • it “is suprapersonal, uniting countless minds which somehow stand in relationship to an overruling divinity.”

Weaver spends several pages on modern semantic theories, and instead of attempting to distill that section (which I had a hard time following in several places), I will tell you what I was taught in my state university “Introduction to the Study of Languages” class:

Language is a means to communicate with others about things not currently present, so we can communicate about more than what is currently present (as a development, evolving, past pointing, gestures, and grunting). Eventually we evolved the capacity and structure to denote even abstract ideas, which don’t really exist in themselves, but are categories we’ve invented for convenience of communication. Words give categories. People cannot comprehend, think about, talk about, or know about things they don’t have words for. The words of a culture demonstrate was is important in that culture. Of course, categories and abstract ideas are culturally defined and have no existence outside of the importance or signification given to them by a culture. Words themselves have no objective meaning. They are merely sounds. With the exception of onomatopoeia, the sounds that make a word – and therefore a word – have no relation to what they signify and have no meaning apart from that the culture has ascribed to it for the sake of convenience of communication. Language is completely conventional. Therefore, there is no reason to try to “preserve” it; it is a construct of a culture, and as culture shifts and changes, the language will alter with it. When it comes right down to it, there is no such thing as correct or incorrect usage or grammar, but only accepted and unaccepted or standard (conventional) and nonstandard (unconventional). Therefore, language study (including grammar) is best done descriptively rather than prescriptively.

The above language theory was simply taught straightforwardly, not offered as a theory or as the modern paradigm, but simply as fact. At the time, I thought there might be something at least missing in the presentation of what language was. At the same time as I was in that class, I was in a church (with many weeknight study and conference opportunities) that taught that truth, goodness, and beauty were objective, that words were powerful (in a transcendental sense, and not only that you can use them to manipulate people) and important, and that the metaphysical and symbolic truth is just as real as the physical. I sensed there was something about these two paradigms that didn’t mesh, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the connection. I also never got a chance to (that is, never worked up the guts to) ask about it directly. But, ever since then, it’s been a topic that pricks up my ears and makes me pay attention. Mostly I have come to see just how pervasive this idea of descriptive language study is and how abhorrent most people unconsciously assume prescriptive semantics or linguistics is. Woe to him who pokes a little fun at a person’s misuse and even abuse of language. Abuse of language is not possible in the postmodern paradigm, and misuse only means unconventional, not incorrect.

Weaver quotes another at the conclusion of his section on modern semantics:

All meaning is ultimately linguistic and although science, in the interests of purer notion and manipulation, may break through the husk of language, its nonlinguistic symbols must again be translated back into natural language if intelligibility is to be possible.

For the remainder of the chapter, Weaver develops how language relies on symbolism, which is precisely what modernity has identified as a chief enemy, whether it be the symbolism behind dress standards, titles, marriage, or manners. They have chipped away against the symbolism in all these primarily with the tool of the casual imperative (we must be casual – not imposed on by any standards – if we are to be “real”). But if the symbolism inherent in language could be breached, then all symbolism would give way with it, for it is only through language that we can know symbolic meaning.

Your Posts

There are all sorts of rants as well as musings to be had on this topic. This is a subject I love and would love to spend days and days in conversation about, chasing down rabbit trails and not knowing where we’d end up. However, I’ll end my summary here while it still has a chance at being called a summary. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this subject this week! I do read them all, though I haven’t been commenting lately. I’ve been having a harder time tracking lately, but also have been having issues with comments freezing apps or captchas not working for me. Lest this become a summary of my tech issues of late, I will merely say that they should be resolved now, and I should be able to more easily and quickly comment now. So, I hope to meet with you in the comments this week!



2 Responses

  1. Dana
    |

    It really is difficult to have a fair discussion/debate at times because people cant/wont agree on definitions

  2. Pilgrim
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    I agree with Dana’s sentiments above. Definition is so basic – which is where the problem begins. This reminder is timely so that I can be thoughtful about it as I teach my kiddos.