Language Mystery: From Meaning to Theory

The paper covers discussions for these following topics:

  1. The meaning of ordinary language
  2. The importance of language theory and philosophy
  3. The meaning of mastering language
  4. The basic theories of language

This paper is in a form of chapter report; the discussions were compiled from our group’s opinions and point of views. The correct or incorrect paths or results are not our main purpose in reporting this chapter. Humbly to say, our main concern is to make ourselves understand of the theories and basic philosophies that lie beneath the meaning of language. We do not wish to force the discussion we had to become the idealism or the right or wrong answers for the questions that might appear.

I. Introduction

Alwasilah opened the chapter by quoting one line taken from the Holy Quran, mentioning that humans are created as their most perfect condition. (QS. Attin: 4) The quotation was chosen to be the introduction in this chapter for one main reason. The perfectness of human is completed by the ability to grab, absorb, processing and experience meanings. To experience something is considered as the ability to see patterns from observable phenomenon. These criteria help humans to be able to improve their way of seeing things in their life.

Phoenix (1964) reported by Alwasilah ( 2008: 39), mentioned six categories of meaning which is derived from the analytical understanding of the phenomenon. They are: Symbolic, empiric, esthetic, synnoetics, ethics and synoptic. The specification comes to one part of explanation which is symbolic. It is because symbolic is considered as the basic of other fives.

Symbolic covers (1) ordinary language (2) math and (3) non-discursive symbols, such as sign, ritual, rhythmic patterns and etc. For symbolic covers the ordinary language, it explains why language philosophy is important to explain other philosophies. Ordinary language covers all aspect without differentiate certain groups, it is understood by any groups of human from different professions and positions.

II. Trying to see the essential of philosophy

Ordinary language has its own concern; the academic aspects that cover the visible and touchable part of language (linguistic, philology and anthropology). Linguistic itself covers two fields, which are: phonology (covers the sound) and syntaxes (covers the grammatical structure). These aspects are considered enough for the ordinary language aspects. Meanwhile, Chomsky (reported by Alwasilah 2008: 40) differentiates between syntax and semantics. Whereas syntax is able to describe the format of language in a visible and structuralize information, while semantic has more complicated way to be described. It is very invisible sometimes untouchable.

In this part, language philosophy plays its roles. Philosophy covers and digs out the language meaning within its deepest part, or we might borrow the term from the books, within its roots. Philosophy helps us to give different scope or point of view from the limitation of language. Language can describe something finite, while infinite part sometimes remains in the dark side. Philosophy prevents that to happen. The radicalism of philosophy helps to connect each meaning from the compilation of findings in language meaning. Philosophy sometimes has to use metaphor to describe the meaning that it wants to share

Alwasilah compiled several theories of existentialism (2008: 41) with the purpose of answering several questions regarding the importance of language philosophy. The questions are as follows:

According to Derrida writing is the first instead of oral/ speech language.

It can be true because in writing, symbols can be used. It means that through writings people sometimes could describe something that cannot be described by speech language. Again, writing consists of symbols, sign and drawings, as long as it has meaning and use as the means of communication.

Philosophy is ambitious. Are the lines of the given theories are also ambitious?

Ambition always appears in philosophy for it seeks answers. However the theories given cannot be described as ambitious theories, because it is in metaphor. Ambition is clear, meaning that it has clear definition, goal and media while metaphor is tangible and abstract. It is very contradictive but it does not mean it cannot go in the same path.

  1. Philosophy reduces all matters into something metaphor- alike. Agree. No further question about this part.
  2. Linguistic statements can be understood if there is no paradox within itself.

It is very hard to explain, linguistic terms or statements has two parts: semantic and syntax. These paradoxes actually get along pretty well. When we have the structure of a sentence, the meaning will appear. We will get lost in meaning if we cannot describe further about something through appropriate structure.

Every language statements or terms can be seen as a politic action to dominate other language’s actions.

It will depend on meaning, which will lead to further question on situation and character.

According to Phoenix, the mastery of language depends on four key words: usage, symbol, meaning and communication. How is the language mastery of philosophers based on Phoenix’s statement?

Philosophers use metaphor to get to the bottom of the matter. Metaphor covers the four aspects given by Phoenix. So if we want to talk about the level, of course it will be very difficult, it cannot be compared.

  1. What is your opinion on the quotations given (phonologically, morphologically and syntactically)? One word- ambiguous!
  2. For some readers, quotations given are confusing and less communicative. Why?

Because metaphor is not colloquial language. Kind of language that you can use anytime and anywhere. Metaphor is communicative in its way. All people can accept confusion  but not all people are willing to find the way out of the confusion.

Can you compare the creative process between a poem and philosophy quotes given?

No. Poem can be written when there is certain inspiration appears. Philosophy is the inspiration, it has no boundary. It keeps on going.

How to grab the meaning of the quotations given so it can be meaningful for wide range of society?

Communicatively implemented in daily life. Find the closest situation in life.

Then again, Philosophy does not seek answer, it creates questions.

III. Mastering Language

In general point of view, mastering language means the ability to use symbols meaningfully to communicate. It will relate with Phoenix theories, which are described as follow:

  1. The indicator of language mastery is the ability of a person in implementing speaking and writing. In this stage the mastery of vocabulary by one person and how we use it in speaking and writing are the main judgment.
  2. The mastery of language continues when a person reach the step of communicating his language within its society. In the end, he becomes the part of the society who has the same tune of language.
  3. The next is meaning grabbing. It means that human is able to grab the meaning and know the real utterance of language, instead of only copying each word like parrots do.
  4. The final is symbolization, one aspect that cultured the mastery of language

IV: The Basic Theories of Language

Language related with the production of the mind. It is hoped that the theory and the study of language could explain the essential of mind. Theories about language are the abstraction of language masters’ thought upon the language phenomenon. It means that language science will consider the aspect below:

  • Variety: Variety occurs in every phenomenon, including in language. The varieties are absolute and tendencies.
  • Relativity: Language changes and develops, it happens along with the development of humanism.
  • Causal effect: Language change happens because there is always a trigger behind it.

V. The Language Theory and Scientific Method

It is been said that human reach the understanding of universe by language. Erikson quoted by Hoover (1980) differentiated three kinds of concept:

  • Fact, reality and actuality: touchable and clear things that can be define.
  • Theories role: identification and truth test.
  • Language theory: Deals with speculation and empirical aspects. It derives from limited thought that can be poured down in systematic symbolic concrete form.
  • Chomsky’s theory: Form Chomsky’s over all review about language theories, the highest theory is the one that covers explanatory adequacy. It means that it is real and has limitation. The limitation stated in these points:

–          Observational adequacy : within these criteria; phonology, morphology, syntax and semantic

–          Descriptive adequacy : enhance the true speaker intuition

–          Explanatory adequacy : understandable by community

VI. Conclusion

In short, emphasizing in the relation between ordinary language and language philosophy; language are exist as it existence: limited and language philosophy try to covers the limitation by creating metaphor that can cross the boundaries of limitation. The relation between the two: completing and competing.