Language is a frustratingly complex symbolic system, yet it is effectively used by small children. Language has been thoroughly explained by those with brilliant minds in disparate fields, yet a complete understanding of it remains frustratingly beyond our grasps. It always seems as though just as we reveal something new about language, just as we appear certain to construct some edifice of ultimate linguistic understanding, those damn counterexamples keep cropping up, as if in language as with nothing else, there is this holy grail of scientific system building, yet, almost schizophrenically, there can be nothing scientifically secure. Why is this?

There are several reasons. A big one is that words, or any unit of meaning, do not represent some eternal, scientifically measurable truth. Instead, they represent our beliefs regarding reality. Language is just a lot more subjective than we often realize. As a reflection of our beliefs rather than reality it is itself imprisoned by the subjective constraints of our minds. Thinking of our words and meanings as mere tools can help us avoid conflating them with the objects of the tools.

And then consider the extent to which what everything one person believes intertwines with the belief systems of every other person. Our belief networks are incredibly complicated, creatively elaborate, and elusively impossible to completely understand. Not one person seems to be in complete understanding of every one of his desires, memories, and beliefs. When one person tries to understand those of one other person, the task becomes exponentially more difficult, and then again when trying to understanding the beliefs of groups of others.

I’ve read a lot of language philosophy, much of which I’ve found fascinating. However, a larger part of it seems to muddy the layman’s waters. To me, much of language philosophy seems to be concerned with creating systems to describe how we use language, and then addressing the problems that other philosophers find with those systems. Explanation becomes layered upon other explanation, creating a complicated morass that is practically unrecognizable to people outside of the field. The heated debates usually use argued definitions of such things as reference and sense and scads of linguistic specific jargon to argue over questions, such as: What is meaning? How do words work? How do words refer to objects? These are topics that often seem trivial to outsiders.