' The Lingual Aspect - the Dooyeweerd Pages
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The Lingual Aspect

Briefly ...

We experience the lingual aspect intuitively in expressing, recording and interpreting. This can be by speech, writing, pictures, gestures etc. and even such things as boundary stones. Dooyeweerd's discussion of the lingual aspect is rather brief, found mainly on pages 221-227 of [1955, II] but some may be found on pages 284-5, with a link to the aesthetic aspect on page 137.

Words that express things meaningful from the perspective of the lingual aspect include: 'speak', 'hear', 'write', 'read', 'gesture', 'signal', 'mark', 'record', 'edit', 'quote'; 'understandable', 'expressive'; 'sign', 'symbol', 'phoneme, 'word', 'sentence', 'paragraph'; 'vocabulary', 'language'; 'noun', 'verb', 'adjective'; 'text', 'diagram'; 'media'; 'data', 'information', 'meaning' (as that which words carry) and so on. Note the quote marks; these signify that we list words with lingual importance, whereas in other aspects phenomena of importance are listed, without quotes. This highlights the difference between the use of words and what those words signify. What each word above signifies is meaningful in the lingual aspect.

One good possibility that the lingual aspect introduces into temporal reality is externalisation of our intended meaning. Thoughts and concept structures are private, and cease when we forget or die, but lingual functioning enables them to be externalized so they can be received by others (communication), and survive forgetting and death if expressed in a persistent medium.

Negative in the lingual aspect is anything that prevents adequate expression and understanding of what was meant; this includes unintentional problems like inability to express oneself on the one hand, and lying, obfuscation and equivocation on the other.

The lingual aspect works with meaning, and hence is closely allied with the oceanic meaningfulness by reference to which all occurs. The relationship between these has not been properly explored because the immanence-standpoint mitigates against doing so, and meaningfulness is presumed to be be attributed meaning. However, the linguistic turn in philosophy has opened the door into this expanse. Much of the linguistic turn in philosophy (Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Habermas and Derrida) is already prefigured in Dooyeweerd's understanding of the lingual aspect, but Dooyeweerd might have criticised it for a tendency to reduce other aspects to the lingual, whether in Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action [1986] or in Gadamer and Derrida who treat the whole of life as 'text'. They follow Husserl's mistake of confusing signified intentional meaning with aspectual meaningfulness [Dooyeweerd 1955,II,p.225 footnote]. Nevertheless, signified meaning is not disconnected from oceanic aspectual meaningfulness.

Lingual interpretation is not the same as forensic 'interpretation'. In lingual interpretation, it is of prior lingual objects, i.e. symbols created by someone with signification which the reader or hearer must interpret. Forensic interpretation, on the other hand, is more like analysis, because it is of what has been observed. The two types of interpretation, therefore, should not be confused, even though both involve 'meaning'. One is the signification of symbols, the other is the general oceanic meaningfulness inscribed into the things selected for observation, by the functioning of the observed. This difference will be important when considering human social activity.

Lingual functioning is pre-social, referring to what individuals do and might not involve communication. Most of use employ abbrev'ns (sic) in shorthand notes. However, most of the potential of the lingual aspect remains closed until it is used in the service of social functioning; the lingual aspect very strongly antecipates the social.

Defining the Aspect x

Also called 'semiotic' aspect by Dirk Stafleu.

Kernel x

rather than:

What does it mean to 'refer'?

A useful discussion of this question (actually 'What does it take to refer?') is by Kent Bach [2006]. Problem is that if we take "dog" to refer to a dog or all dogs, or the idea of dogness, or whatever, then we get into tangles. So Bach begins with Strawson's [1950] famous dictum, "Referring is not something an expression does; it is something that someone can use an expression to do." And then he tries to untangle that. But he ends up concluding "Referring is not as easy as is commonly supposed."

The idea that referring is something that people do rather than something an expression does is central to Dooyeweerd's approach, in that all 'objects' (e.g. expressions) are not objects in themselves, but only in relation to someone's subject-functioning. (That the expression itself does the referring presupposes Descartes' subject-object idea rather then Dooyeweerd's law-subject-object idea.)

However I think Dooyeweerd might help with the problem in Strawson's idea. (Warning: the following paragraphs will only make full sense once you have understood the rest of this webpage; so read it now, to get a jist, then re-read it when you have read all else.)

First, he might affirm the notion of referring as central, because, in characterizing his notion of cosmic meaning, he said 'meaning has the character of referring', that is a thing refers beyond to other things (and ultimately to its Source). The cosmos refers beyond itself to its Creator. Lingual referring is, of course, different. But it still exhibits the character of referring. The role of the lingual aspect among the others (see below?) is to enable deliberate reference.

Second, Dooyeweerd can help us understand the supposed relationship of referring, as related to the kernel meaning of the lingual aspect. Like all aspectual kernel meanings, we can only grasp it with our intuition, not with theoretical thought. We cannot understand theoretically what it is for a symbol or sign to refer or signify, but we can grasp it intuitively. But many in linguistics, trying to explain it theoretically, tend to speak of the (reference) relationship between symbol and its meaning as though those are two 'things' that exist separately and happen to be linked by a relationship of referring. But Dooyeweerd would question that presupposition (which is a variant of the existence presupposition). Instead, the symbol that comes into being when we utter (or write or draw) it and the being of the reference relationship are one and the same - and the being of both is the responsive act of a human being responding to the laws of the lingual aspect - which is largely what Strawson was getting at. Dooyeweerd might urge those in the science of linguistics to put the symbol and the reference relationship back together. Otherwise one gets into a maze of confusion. But with Dooyeweerd's view, then the relationship between syntax, semantics and pragmatics becomes less problematic, since all are human functionings (viz. respondings to laws of aspects).

Some central themes x

In lingual functioning there is a source (speaker, writer, etc.) and a recipient (hearer, reader, etc.). Some of the themes below are about source, some about recipient, some about medium, and some about all. (Most thinkers in this field take source, recipient and medium as the main components of lingual functioning, but it may be that other components will be seen as important in future; for example, is context part of lingual functioning or is it the input of functioning in another aspect? Only time will tell.)

Themes about both source recipient and medium: