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Richards and Language

I found Richards to be very interesting in several places. Something that I thought had particular resonance were the issues he explored toward the end of his appearance in Bizzell and Herzberg. It made me think of fairly everyday assumptions that I make which, under his analysis, seem rather spurious.

When Richards discusses the way we think of words as embodying something beyond their linguistic symbol (1291) I think he is describing an action that most of us take. Morphemes, sounds common to different words the describe a related meaning, make words seem like more than just linguistic representations. The "fl" sound he cites as being related to moving light is a good example. To us, this sound carries something more than a linguistic representation. Richards, correctly I think, points that this simply an artificial construct. We associate moving light with "fl" sound because it is the sound we often use to describe moving light in our language. Outside of our language, it doesn't have any meaning.

This passage made me think about something I once read regarding the man who invented shrapnel. He was actually named Shrapnel. The writer commented how the pronunciation of his name seemed to embody the different sounds that the artillery ammunition he invented made as it was fired. I've been wondering how specious this is.

It is unfortunate that we don't have a good record of how language evolved. It seems as though in early stages of verbal communication that the sounds of words might have been less abstract. Of course, this is probably again me falling into the trap that Richards describes.

Daniel