With each language in the world there seems to be a set number of words, some

Read another response by Richard Heck, Andrew Pessin
Read another response about Language
With each language in the world there seems to be a set number of words, some have more it seems and some have less. My question is that in a language that has less words, is it limited in it's ability to conceptualize and describe and thus understand less about it's reality around it, or is it's simplistic view what gives a clearer view of things? Follow up: If you can't define a word without using another word, wouldn't words be subjective?

You may be referring (directly or indirectly, intentionally or not) to the infamous Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, in brief the idea that the structure of one's language constrains/determines one's conceptualization of and cognitive approach to the world. (If the Inuit genuinely have more words for snow than ordinary English speakers, then that reflects that they can make (say) visual distinctions between the kinds of snow than we can ....) I'm not particularly familiar with the literature except that I believe this hypothesis is no longer much in fashion at all -- while perhaps in some limited senses different languages (including their different vocabularies, number of words, grammatical structures) are able to express various thoughts differently, etc., far more people accept these days that the 'thoughts' themselves are roughly universally available -- and indeed the fact that languages CAN be translated into each others (even if not always perfectly) suggests that all languages are capable of expressing the same thoughts ... (and even when a translation isn't perfect we can usually describe the ways in which it is imperfect, thus more fully capturing the 'thought' expressed') ... As for your follow-up: depends what you mean by 'subjective' (or course), but you have your finger on a very deep issue: whether meaning is ultimately reducible to the relationship between a word and our conception or perception of things ... (at some point words must 'make contact' with the world ....)

Related Terms