Application XIV: Words’ work

If there is something general to be said about languages, why settle for looking for universals among their particulars – as has been pursued with words? Especially when there are but two linguistic features so recognized (subject-predicate-object relationship [re actor-action-goal]; noun-adjective relationship [re object names and modifying qualities]), and they fall short on needed functionality … and thus they help contribute more work for words.

What needed functionality? Tells. Tells enough to give expression to all the functionality (App. X) that needs to be made evident to incompletely instructed actors (i.e., “us”) given the Nature of Things’ partial order condition. Made evident to and for primary, secondary and/or tertiary reads. Names and individual words, as secondary tells, are not tell enough. Language adds features which improve word combinations as secondary tells (i.e., what is being talked about); they also implement tertiary tells (i.e., what is said about what is being talked about).

Languages too are not tell enough. They are not complete enough. Added features (e.g., tense, number, gender, case) discriminate much – but not every condition of consequence. And they are not accurate enough. They address particular behavioral relationships, but in a manner biased against adequate tells about behavior itself as needed functionality.

For example, working from needed functionality – the behavioral problem (: Pbeh; ) — the intransitive form of a verb is more to the point – i.e., immediate — than the transitive form. Verb-adverb (ala noun-adjective) doesn’t cut it. Not into composable performance units, as for solving problems.) Languages are thus more suited to describing behavioral relationships after the fact than to describing behavioral relatings before and/or after the fact.

Behavior and language, as developments – the latter as a technological development, need to operate in concert. The same impediments (: S-P, Ps; IV) stand in the way of both. We endure instead of cure. Words endure with us. For the other thing that is general about words is that languages impose on words. They make some words work awfully hard – and us in our use of them.

When tells are absent or weak or twisted, reads are hard, sometimes impossible, to make.

Words work not just to provide reference, although many words do have that chore. Nor do they just help each other out by providing context, to make sense of differences in usage. Nor do they just give representation, as consequence, to whatever condition they gave expression. Not just all of these jobs. There’s still more to be said about “meaning.”

We find some more of meaning, of words’ work, in the history of development from names to words-in-languages. (A history that CEM [contingent emergent materiality] helps make clear. See App. XI.) The Nature of Things helps explain why languages give words more work to do.

If behavioral entities, BE, were fully instructed, so as to be innately reactive … then words – if and when needed at all — would be no more than names. “Recognizance tells,” so to speak. Language would be no more than a collation of names, a library solution of every thing given a name and a name for every thing. Capacity would be a problem, but it would be the paramount problem – as it now appears to be with multiple referents for many words (:Ps).

For any problems of identification that remained in regard to BE relationships (to avoid or arrange collisions) with other BE (some more behavioral than others) simple word combinations would do (as above re universal features). However, needed discrimination among observed behavioral conditions demanded more linguistic features.

Needed functionality gives capability increasing prominence (as a manifestation of history’s contingent emergent materiality). Behavior progresses as capabilities are developed. Language must try to follow, to “get with it.” But language development has been attentive to behaviors, not to behavior per se. It has lost touch with needed functionality because we have lost sight of the functionality needed for our behavior. Language has the potential to lead but it has resolutely followed. (As discussed below it has to better serve our steps of thought – i.e., our composing via cognition and communication — to bring itself and our behavior further forward along the CEM story line.)

So the story of language and words is a mixture of (mostly ad hoc) developments and “evolutionary” (i.e., birth-life-death) change. This as behaviors gave more and more reason to give representation and more and more to give representation to. “Meaning” alerts us to a problem that has come with the solutions (:Ps). The cost of human investment in coping with this problem (e.g., definition, explication, clarification) is enormous. And the potential benefit of a different, more forward-looking approach to language building and its infrastructural productivity goes untapped.

Consider some of the kinds of work that words in the English language now have to try to perform in consequence of how that language has come about, kinds of work that produce problems that go far beyond word definition – and beyond common discussions of meaning ….


Let’s begin with the deceptively straightforward noun-adjective feature. The word serving adjectivally flip-flops between describing some object qua noun (e.g., white house) and being an attributional category of which that object-noun is an instance (house, snow and paper are white), thereby incurring an ambiguity of the singular. The flip-flop aspect is essential to quantitative analysis of aggregate particulars, using the inside-outside relation to search out the order midst those particulars (e.g., correlations). But this usage also constitutes an impediment to the development of both behavior and language. When the adjectival word represents itself as a concept, representing a category, it gets in the way of a language (and word usage) that gives the before-after relation the attention to functionality that is needed (but so poorly afforded by “cause-effect,” which confounds the relation with the relationship).

Because the quality attributed to the object-noun is sometimes a behavioral capability, the meaning of the word representing that quality changes as behavioral development changes the capability.

Further, a noun may serve adjectivally, as in “public opinion.” This creates another kind of tell difficulty, because the identification of the noun serving adjectivally is unsaid. Thus, as in the case of “public” in “public opinion,” this representation may be trivializing the functionality of community – what “public” should be talking about.(Participating in a double-noun concept like this, both “public” and “opinion” are sorely taxed. They must somehow evoke a sense of what each is talking about – roughly all the functionality implicated in community and cognition — and then also the dynamics of the relationship between them. It’s not working well.)

Still further, a preposition following a noun may serve adjectivally, as we saw in the case of noun fractals. For example, freedoms OF, FOR, TO, FROM give these prepositions work in addition to, but similar to, the work they perform for verbs (verb fractals) in expressing a verb’s transitive relationship to an object- noun (e.g., throw to ___, throw at ___).

Turning to the subject-predicate-object feature of language, words find more work to do. It begins with the noun-verb representation of subject or object and predicate. The same word is often called upon to express them both. Many words serve a dual function as both noun and verb. Consequential words such as “point,” “picture “and “effect.”

(Tempting though it is to see this noun-verb ambiguity as a telling ambivalence – i.e., as an evocation of the dual-stranded [entity/behavior] thread of history’s contingent emergent materiality [CEM], an echo of the wave/particle duality earlier in the physics’ domain of CEM – the consequence of this double duty has been more tell and read work for words.)

The functional demand here has been such that the suffix “-ize” has come to help along with the prefix “en-”. What all this amounts to is that behavior is (poorly) understood linguistically. It is seen in terms of relationships. It is not well understood in terms of relating and relations. As though behavior were not progressing, historically, from mere combination toward more compositional capability. (Agonizingly slowly however.) As though behavior could not benefit from a language that relieved words of some, if not most, of their work.

The history of the intransitive verb is suggestive here. Behaviorally, capability precedes its application. But by now alternative meanings for the transitive far outnumber those for the intransitive. When a verb is designated in the dictionary as both intransitive and transitive in its usage, it is the intransitive that is more likely to be considered as archaic. Because capability is taken for granted – i.e., our attention has been diverted? Because language has always favored the particular observed relationship, not the more general needed functionality? (For which a more telling representation is lacking.)

Languages can be said to be “living” because new features and new words are being added in consort with differences and changes in behavioral particulars. Just as changes in those particulars may kill off features and words. But what of “living” in a different, more general sense? Considered as procedural tools, they appear to serve communities of identificatory agreement and/or a logic of identification. That is, they are not so much structures serving functional need in light of the Nature of Things as they are structures serving the limited functional need of other human structures. They are not as “living” as they could and should be.

(With respect to functional balance, the unbalanced ratio of particular to general [p/G > 1] is very dysfunctional. It gets in the way of a more productive interdependency between language and behavior per se.)

So, what’s to be done? Specifically what can we do about languages to make them, along with behavior, more compositional … and thus become more in accord with the Nature of Things and its two-stranded historical CEM thread? It doesn’t have to be something universal. It only has to be relevant to what is general in needed functionality. A kind of CEM-sense.

We can tweak a bit, so as to provide reminders to us that tells and reads (aka interpretations) should keep the general in sight as well as the particular, in order for us to provide as much – or more — consequentiality to “effect” before the fact (as verb) as to “effect” after the fact (as noun).

Applying “CEM-” as a prefix (a point raised in App. XI), to indicate further coverage for concepts like pragmatism, functionalism and positivism is a possible tweak. But CEM is more than a tweak for concepts. It is part of a theory, and more of a preface for all of behavior than a linguistic prefix to be used only occasionally It serves minding not just to call attention. It could be very useful as an elicited criterion to help restore us to an accord with the Nature of Things.

“Thingk” is more of a tweak, for example. As a new word it calls attention to composing’s need for pointed questioning and to its oft-to-be-expected hypothetical entity as an answer. “Thingk” is an imagination matter, not an image matter. (It does not subscribe to the simplistic notion of “language and thought” as understanding enough of what is involved in a more productive behavioral path forward.)

“Thingk” tells us to trust the process – but test the product. For every thingk dismissed (e.g., phlogiston) we still have scores of unpleasantly plump concepts impeding our efforts to tell and read (, ), defeating effective communication and community behavior. Thingks as unexamined products are the bane of the academy’s social sciences and humanities – indeed of intellectual life everywhere.

Another tweak with merit here might be “sensery.” As “sensory” is to capacity, let “sensery” be to capability. A linguistic distinction to parallel and represent a critical behavioral distinction. A crucial behavioral distinction lest we not remark the need for capability development. And lest we fall victim to additional dynamic dysfunction, as in the use of drugs to expand sensory capacity at the expense of a developmental investment in sensery capability. That enlarged sensory capacity which may appear to resolve our troubles (i.e., the behavioral problem and a situational problem) solves neither satisfactorily.

When we speak of “making sense” and/or of “sense making” (Dervin) it is implicit that we are being constructive. (Note “constructed meaning” in this regard as well.) But a language that represents behaviors and relationships after the fact does not help enough with the task of being constructive before the fact via relatings and relations … in the making, in the composing. Perhaps “sensery” could help.

Still, such tweaks serve primarily to call attention. As innovation goes, they qualify as of the “new, improved” type. How about something more? Something more of the enabling infrastructure type (, )?

It would seem that the two features common to natural languages refract the concern among behavioral entities for collisions – i.e., bodies and their relationships. The rest has come along in elaboration of their syntactic representation.

A virtue of this body-biased syntax is that it helps relieve some of the ambiguity and/or ambivalence of words as tells (e.g., “effect” as verb and noun). Words alone, without the help of language, would have an impossible representational task – just for the particulars involved … now that we are so far removed from raw collisions. And we would not appreciate the acquisition and usage burdens they would pose. However, the cure is far from complete, as we saw with respect to the Nature of Things (III) where general and particular (G- and p-) and body and step (B- and S-) prefix forms had to be coined to redress neglected distinctions.

What has been neglected is behavior per se and the conditions attendant to it, given the Nature of Things. The neglect is not solely linguistic. But if we look to potential innovation in language we shall also be looking to potential (infrastructural) innovation in minding – what “sensery” was alluding to … thus to further develop the functional interdependency of language and behavior.

Consider recipes. “Recipe” with its own two parts: ingredients plus procedure has, as metaphor, been carrying a heavy load when it comes to guiding our problem- solving behavior. But it is a way we envision our way forward. Language can be viewed metaphorically as a recipe for communicating. And it is a recipe in that sense too for composing (communication plus cognition [App. III]) behavioral molecules, the steps we make and take.

But in this sense it is a tells recipe only for particulars. Such is the import of “language and thought.” What language – and behavior per se – need is a grand recipe. This to give context to recipe construction as well as to recipe use, to give completeness to and accuracy for the representations and context we now have within languages.

“A picture is worth a 1,000 words,” it has been said. But that’s primarily to afford a better image of a particular. What both language and behavior need, and what BFPS and CEM offer, is a picture (for minding in its generality along with the particular) that is worth an infinity of words. “Recipe” just hints at this picture, its ingredients and procedures calling attention to only two of nine constituents in “all that it takes” for compositional change and drastically under-representing the agency capabilities needed for problem solving given the Nature of Things.

Our current linguistic recipe accommodates far too many conceptual terms (aka words) all too readily, concepts whose value (beyond calling attention and asserting territorial claims) is severely limited. Their corralling (of instances) product is dysfunctional in the same way that poorly made bread contains holes through which the jam drips disastrously.

(c) 2013 R.F. Carter