Language as Generic vs. Language as Abstract


Language, by its nature, is generic.

That’s the opinion herein I forward, and I hope you take a strong liking to.

Seeing language as abstract is a common vision within general semantics, but seeing language as generic is an uncommon, new vision within general semantics which leads to seeing language as representing far fewer characteristics than the things it represents have.

The word “abstract,” we’re told, means “representing fewer characteristics,” but the use of the word “abstract” in portraiture suggests a different meaning: “abstract” roughly means “distorted.”  Employing that meaning within general semantics, “abstract” means that language, being abstract, may distort its subject.  Surely, language can and does, but that’s a whole different quality of language than its being generic.

Language, being generic, naturally represents fewer characteristics than its subject has.  That is, “generic” is a more proper word for talking about represented characteristics than the word “abstract.”  At least that is my opinion, and hopefully you will soon see why.

For example, take the word “apple.”  When you think of an apple, do all of its characteristics come to mind?  If you think so, did its seeds come to mind?  Did the worm inside it come to mind?  Did the cells of it come to mind?  What about the cellular structure of those cells?  What about the variability of structure amongst the cells?  Each speck on the skin–did those come to mind, too?  What about the dent in the skin?  Not all apples have them … but did each apple that exists come to your head?  Really?  The split second I said “when you think of an apple”?  Actually, only a relatively small number of characteristics come to mind when you hear or read the word “apple.”  That is not wrong; instead, that is the nature of language: It represents only a relatively small number of characteristics its subject has.

The truth is, only a few characteristics are represented by all words, and so, to that degree, all words (and more globally, language) is generic.  The profundity of such a claim is that you can never say all about something in a few words, or even in innumerable words.  Language will always be more generic than what it represents.  “Generic” means “representing fewer characteristics.”

Take for instance the sentence, “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.”  Just how generic of a statement is it?  It is highly generic if you were in New York City that day.  The statement doesn’t detail anywhere near the number of characteristics that day had, either chronologically or emotionally for each NYCer.  We can use more language to make the statement less generic, to detail more characteristics represented in that sentence.  However, no matter how many words you write, the referents for those sentences will have more characteristics than the words represent.

Surely, the statement  “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001” is like a map and abstract–a distortment to some degree.  However, saying that it’s abstract doesn’t call such precise attention to the sentence’s lack of representation for countless characteristics underlying the sentence.  Saying that it’s generic does.

What value does this lesson have to you?  As you listen to language, keep in mind that there are more characteristics to the subjects you’re learning about than are represented in their corresponding stories.  The news lacks innumerable characteristics.  The newspapers, the blogs, the rumors you hear, the stories you’re told.  Never think that you know it all.  Instead, you might know some, but there will never be knowing all.  Characteristics go unrepresented in the stories you digest.  But also in the stories you weave: You cannot say all, either.

And so I hope you will begin to use the word “generic” in your general semantics discussions when characterizing language.

See also: , , , ,

~ End Article and Begin Conversation ~

There are no comments yet...

~ Now It's Your Turn ~

Feel free to use <strong>, <em>, and <a href="">


Search this Site




alfred-korzybski aristotelianism cassius-keyser concept conflict definition engineering extension extensional-orientation game-theory gantt-chart general-principle-of-uncertainty generic-terms goals human-engineering identity implication improv insane insanity intension is-of-identity language language-as-generic manhood-of-humanity marketing mathematical-philosophy meaning non-aristotelianism non-elementalism personal-engineering productivity sane sanity science science-and-sanity semantic-reaction semantics structural-differential thinking time-binding unsanity values walter-polakov ways-of-thinking