Language as human knowledge system
Language is a human capacity (or faculty, or ability, or quality). The thesis expressed here is that human language (so-called natural language) acts as a repository of knowledge. What is the use of storing and manipulating knowledge? Primarily, to collectively solve problems that arise in the real world. Does language support this problem-solving? Yes, because language contains constructs that closely mimic the way reality is perceived (by humans) to work. For example:
- Verbs represent processes that are carried out in reality
- Verb tenses represent our perception of time and the relative position of events on the time axis
- Prepositions allow facts to be structured and ordered in time/space
- Nouns represent distinguishable entities in the real word (or in speculative worlds given the other human faculty of creativity)
- New nouns and verbs are continuously emerging to represent new entities and processes with which humans deal
- In contrast to the previous point, little or no new prepositions have emerged, because the fabric of space/time has been stable throughout human history - as far as we could tell.
Limits of reality and their effect on language
- What happens if time travel becomes possible? New combinations of time sequences will be required that cannot be expressed with existing tenses. Check out this little discussion for speculations.
- The quantum reality introduces its share of new questions about verb tenses. In fact, Quantum Linguistics is an emerging buzzword. Check out this short article.
- What happens if human-scale quantum effects become commonplace? Objects will no longer have local positions in space, so new prepositions will be needed.
Language as representation of thoughtLanguage thus creates a logical model of physical reality and allows to populate that model with facts, i.e. observations, as well as communicate those facts, and the model itself, to other humans. By a process of creative analogy, humans also use language to describe intangible concepts and beliefs, and they structure those pseudo-facts in the same framework as the physically-motivated model. In this sense, human thoughts are embodied in language. To be sure, the phonetic aspect of language contains very rich semantic information at an even higher level: speech intonation carries complete emotions among individuals.
So to study language is to study thought. To model language is to model thought.