Chapter 8. How Language Works

Thought is made in the mouth.

—TRISTAN TZARA

Looking at Language

TO UNDERSTAND HOW LANGUAGE FUNCTIONS AS SUCH A CRUCIAL PART of our environment, we need to look at how it manages to mean anything to begin with. That means understanding some basics about signs and symbols, the mechanisms of signification.

Language is so much a part of human life, we hardly ever think about it explicitly. Like fish in water, we just use it as a sort of natural human medium. That’s one reason language works so well. If we had to ponder the depths of meaning for every utterance, we wouldn’t get much done. In everyday usage, we frankly treat language in much the same way scholars of the sixteenth century believed language to be: that ...

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