Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


What are Words? – Alysha

Component A: My question was about how words affected our idea of objects and how we associated words with what they were created to mean. I chose this question because I have always been curious about how there is a specific list of words that we all just accept and all agree on one specific meaning. I think it is really interesting how we can create a mental picture of something in our head that was communicated by putting together a couple of letters. Also how letters put together, can alter our perception of the world around us.  The idea of different languages and how we can not communicate with people in different parts of the world because their letters are put together differently than ours and a word that looks like an english word can have the meaning of something completely different really confused me and made me want to look deeper into it. This was a very difficult subject to research due to the fact that I had to pre-research before I actually was able to use the databases. I spent many hours wrapping my mind around the idea of linguistics and what that area of study was. I also spend a lot of time researching on Saussure and Locke because both had many valid points on their opinion of where words actually came from. Finding actually relevent topics on the data bases was almost impossible some of my research was done through the databases and some came from other sources. What is the significance of words? How do words affect our ideas and thoughts? How do we associate objects with words? These were all the questions I wanted to research answers to.

Component B: Statistics, Probability, Significance, Likelihood: Words Mean What We Define Them to Mean GORDON B. DRUMMOND,* AND BRIAN D. M. TOMDebate: Seven Ways to be A Realist About Language,The arbitrary power of language

Component C: In these readings and several others, the main aspects that shed light upon my questions were:

  • “We use language to express ourselves through speech, to record our experiences, or to invent or tell stories in writing. Language is made up of socially shared rules that includes:
    • What words mean
    • How to make new words
    • How to put new words together
    • What word combinations are best in different situations”   — This abstract explains how we as a society incorporate and manipulate language to further befit ourselves and how language assists us to communicate our ideas and to share our opinions with our peers. This list demonstrates that language is not set in stone, instead it is just an idea of how society has come together to put together a way to communicate with each other. Language is not finite but rather infinite because people are always coming up with new ways to share ideas or thoughts and dictionaries are always adding new words that we have never come up with before into them which proves that language is a never-ending concept that is difficult to completely master.


  • Ferdinand De Saussure — He was a big influence on the ways we thought about language and where do words really originate from. He understood that thinking about language really ment to be thinking about thinking. This concept is really challenging to wrap your head around, but this meant that in order for him to conceptualize words as a whole, he needed to first understand what it meant to think about how our brains think about words. He first broke down our idea of a word into two parts a) the concept and b) the sound image.
    • For example: picture a random tree (made up or real). This tree regardless of the exact form, this abstract idea of a tree, is a concept. Now picture the letters T-R-E-E. These four letters, when put in this order form the sound image in that they can be spoken, written or read. But without the imagined tree behind them, the letters are meaningless. Only by uniting the concept and sound image will tree evoke the mental picture you have just made up.


  • John Locke wrote: “There is no natural connection between particular sounds and particular ideas, if there were, there would only be one human language.” — This was a very important idea for people to understand because it directly contradicts Saussure idea of how words are conceptualized because Saussure believed that in order to understand words, we must first understand how we think about words, while Locke believed there was no such connection between the two concepts. His opinion was more leaning towards all words are arbitrary otherwise why would different words be used for the same thing in a different language.


Component D: New Questions…

Who accepts this words (sound) as the single way to communicate ideas/opinions to each other?

How do we define and create new languages?

How do words create a symbol of objects?

How do we form the “standard” of a word, and who decides if it is a word or not?

Why is the spelling of a word correct and who declares that it is?





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