Have I got a scoop for you..
Today I'm going to do better than Wiki for you.
In a comment on Okie's last post, I told him that "it all hangs together".
That sounds mystico-religious to most of you, but verily I say unto you, it is NOT JUST mystico-religious. If you want to, you can also connect to this from a scientific point of you. It depends on... how much of an open mind you have. Let's see.
A little while ago I did a post on synchrony/diachrony, which are also concepts coming from structural linguistics. Recap : for any given phenomenon, you can look at it from two different points of view (at least, but I'm interested in these two here). Diachrony, which is a way of situating it in history. Like, for example examining the way fiat money has evolved OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. And, you can look at fiat money NOW, in our society (synchrony). And I said that these points of view are like axes, an ordinate and an abcissa. In order to get the WHOLE picture, you have to examine phenomena from BOTH POINTS OF VIEW. Under these conditions... PERSPECTIVE opens up.
We are going atomic in language.
Let's start with this little paradigm. (I'm looking at oral language, and at sounds.)
Take a look at the first two "words". Both of those words are different.
HOW DO YOU DETERMINE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE TWO WORDS ? (The first step in assigning meaning.)
The first sound and the last sound in each of those two words is the same. (I have held them constant, see, just like in a scientific experiment ?)
But there is a difference, and you can tell it.
The answer is in the question : the difference BETWEEN.
You are comparing those two words, and you hear the difference in that middle sound, the vowel sound. Bravo. You knew the DIFFERENCE. Almost automatically.
Let's go on to the second and third word.
Compare again. You hear the difference again. This time it is not in the vowel sound, but in the initial consonant. You were comparing again.
Third and fourth. You're picking up quickly. This time the DIFFERENCE is in the final consonant.
This is the atomic level. So that you can understand how you understand with the MOST ELEMENTAL BUILDING BLOCKS, what are called phonemes in the jargon.
Now.... if I take away that little paradigm, constructed that way, how do you know which word is which, when you are listening, which word fits ?
You know it because you have the SYSTEM in your head, and you are constantly comparing the SOUND YOU HEAR (the one PRESENT) to all the other ABSENT sounds that are part of the system, but that are possible. And dink ? There are complicated rules that determine which sound fits where. Not all sounds are possible everywhere, but... you KNOW this. Without ever having learned it in a book either...
Pretty nifty, huh ? Just at the most elemental level, it is ALREADY ASTOUNDINGLY COMPLEX.
And you see that in order for you to be able to TELL THE DIFFERENCE, all the sounds are in relation, they are all OPPOSED to each other in a particular way. Without this opposition, YOU CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE, and what you hear is mumbo jumbo.
Let's go to the molecular level.
John drinks Coca Cola.
Mary drinks Coca Cola.
Mary sells Coca Cola.
Mary sells French bread.
Now.. that looks like what you saw at the atomic level, doesn't it ?
It is the most basic structure of all the Indo European languages : subject/verb/object.
With this basic structure, and with VARIATIONS on this structure, I CAN GENERATE ALL OF THE SENTENCES IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
Pretty nifty, huh ?
And I can even generate sentences like...
The cat ate the tree.. or
The car drank Coca Cola.
Pretty nifty too, huh ?
That's a big problem, those sentences...
For RATIONAL people. Perso, I think they're fun. And humbling..
So... ALL OF OUR SOCIAL STRUCTURES ARE BASED ON LANGUAGE...
I'll let YOU draw the conclusion...
(For you, Thai sweetie. You've been asking for this one for a while, right ? ;-) )