A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Dictionaries

September 22, 2009
Emilie Phillips

They had a brief vignet on dictionaries on the radio. One of the issues they addressed was whether a dictionary records present usage of the language or provides a reference for the correct usage of the language.

The problem with the former is that there becomes no correct way to use the language, and it can mutate unchecked. It was after all the invention of the dictionary that made so texts could still be understood centuries later.

On the flip side, there is obviously no way you can have a static language. There need to be new words for new inventions — telephone, internet, neutron star, etc. I would argue that we should let our language evolve even more than that. A language defines how we think. If you look at different cultures, they litterally have different concepts they can express. So in that way I think natural language is kind of like programming languages. Yes there is a place for assembly or C, but higher level languages are so much more expressive. A large fraction of how software keeps getting better is by people using these more expressive languages. So have to think that there is some sort of parallel to the evolution of natural language.

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  • A language defines how we think

    This is often repeated, but both the causality and even the correlation of this are disputed (if not outright debunked). It could also be that how we think defines the language. Or that they’re unrelated.

    • A language defines how we think

      Further, thinking is quite possible without language. Take the example of an infant with a shape-sorting toy. This toy is usually a hollow ball with holes of various shapes. The infant has no language for shape, square, triangle, congruence, etc, but the infant, while playing, will create complete “programs” to completely fill the shape-sorter as fast as possible.

      Anonymous Dad