An Objective Filosofy of Linguistics: Installment I

G. Stolyarov II
 
Issue XIX - January 5, 2004
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   In this essay I shall be implementing an orthografic innovation: at all instances in which the combination “ph” is part of a word and is pronounced as “f,” it shall be spelled as “f.” (For example, “phenomenon” shall become “fenomenon.”)  Where the “p” and “h” sounds are actually pronounced, they shall be represented as such (For example, “uphold” shall remain spelled as formerly). This adjustment shall apply to all words other than proper names and components of titles of other men’s written works.

            Rationally speaking, this reform can dispel considerable confusion. For example, what, in the status quo, can prevent a beginning English learner from inferring, given the inconsistent use of the “ph” combination, that “uphold” is pronounced as “uffold?” Or, if “uphold” is among the first words to which he is introduced, would this man, functioning under a healthy consistent use of the deductive method, not pronounce “philosophy” as “p’hilosop’hy?” This is not mere speculative fiction; having at one time learned English as a second language myself, I could not at first avoid slipping into my conversations an occasional “hafazard.”

            Before further justifying this suggestion, it is necessary to define the purpose of language and recognize that its status quo is not ideally suited to such an aim. Three statements from Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff should serve to lay the groundwork for a thorough, logical, and scientific theory of proper linguistics. They shall further be mentioned as the Code Premise, the Integration Premise, and the Individualist Premise for swifter reference. It must be remembered however, that they are not axiomatic in themselves; they are the logical extrapolations of the objective metafysics and epistemology that Rand and Peikoff developed.

Premise I- “The Code Premise”

Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting abstractions into concretes, or more precisely, the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units.”

~ Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto, p. 18

Premise II- “The Integration Premise"

It is not true that words are necessary primarily for the sake of communication. Words are essential to the process of conceptualization and thus to all thought. They are as necessary in the privacy of a man’s mind as in any public forum: they are as necessary on a desert island as in society. The word constitutes the completion of the integration stage; it is the form in which the concept exists. Using the soul-body terminology, we may say that the word is the body, and the conscious perspective involved, the soul—and that the two form a unity which cannot be surrendered. A concept without a word is at best an [efemeral] resolve; a word without a concept is noise.”

~ Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 79

Premise III- “The Individualist Premise”

Language is not a ‘social creation,’ nor does its use make the mind a ‘social product.’ A language is a system of concepts, and concepts are a type of cognition. Every concept, like every conclusion, has to be formed by someone, then understood by others through a rational process, if it is to be of cognitive use to them. In the act of learning a language, if he is learning and not parroting, an individual is thinking; he is initiating the complex mental processes that make his ability to speak or write a personal attainment, not a social gift. Anything a man when goes on to discover while using the language is his achievement; it represents his creative faculty originating the next step of knowledge.

….

As long as an individual is sane, he can choose to question and judge, or not to do so; if he judges, he has the capacity to reject what he hears from others. It does not take genius or even education to discover that other people, with their countless clashes, contradictions, and reversals, are not omniscient. In particular, a man can recognize the arbitrary, even if he does not know the truth. He can recognize that ‘Accept it because we say so’ is no answer, even if he does not know the answer; and he can resolve to look for answers elsewhere and to keep on looking.”

~ Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 199-200

Where orthografy is concerned, it follows from the Code Premise that, just as the words themselves must denote real, valid, comprehensible concepts, so must the representation of the word be in itself objectively fathomable. That is, each letter of the word should not be arbitrarily endowed with a fonetic parallel in every individual situation; it should not be “f” in one case and “ph” in the next. The function of language is to convert a colossal amount of concretes and abstractions into a manageable set of units. Language does not accomplish this by reducing the amount of units in question; after all, the individual concepts still exist and must be accounted for by an objective system. But language does alleviate the burden of memorizing a separate way in which each concept can be integrated into a sentence structure with other concepts. Rules concerning grammar, punctuation, necessary sentence components, and parts of speech allow for every concept to be categorized under a set of general principles whose memorization permits any newly learned or coined term, say, “Objectivism” to be employed in as coherent a manner as “cat” or “dog.” But the only reason why language can accomplish this expansion of available concepts is due to its systematization of an already gargantuan mass, so that every new case is no exception to already known principles. Yet in order for this framework to hold on the level of words, it must be supported on a more fundamental level, that of the characters of which the words consist.

To state that “ph” can be pronounced as “f” in most words and “p’h” in a few exceptions is the equivalent of proposing that “Objectivism” must be used as a noun in every sentence except three or four particular ones, where it takes the place of a verb. The rote memorization of these exceptions, though humanly possible in those cases where they are few and uncomplicated, undercuts the very purpose of an orthografic system, the integration of new concepts under a set of existing and universal principles. There is a definite fonetic parallel to the symbol “p” when it is expressed on its own, as there is for the symbol “h” (in most, though, unfortunately, not all cases; that situation will need to be addressed at a later time). What unreason is required to render unto their combination the fonetic properties of “f,” when a separate symbol representing such a sound already exists?

The root of the problem is a historical shortcoming and the blind worship of it by subsequent generations enamored with tradition. The initial Latin alfabet, as employed by the Romans, suffered from a plethora of orthografic misrepresentations. There was no letter “u,” and “Vesuvius” would have been written as “VESVVIVS” (as there was no concept of capital and small letters, either; that notion had been invented during the reign of Charlemagne, under the direction of the English scholar Alcuin, who served as the director of Charlemagne’s Palace School and the prime mover of the Carolingian Renaissance).  Nor was there a letter “f,” despite the presence of a need to furnish the sound now represented by it, as the cultural and geografic neighbors of Rome, the Greeks, possessed an abundance of “f” sounds in their nomenclature and speech. The Greeks, of course, had their own alfabet, which accounted for this characteristic of their language, but Roman scholars, despite paying lip service to Greek art, filosofy, and architecture, neglected to adopt such a simple but ultra-convenient facet of Greek culture. The letter “f” entered the English language from the Germanic side of its origins, along with the letter “u,” yet must of our present scientific terminology has been absorbed, out of “respect for tradition,” from combinations of Latin transcriptions of Latin and Greek words, with scant effort made to revise their spelling in accordance with the conveniences since devised. I know of no Germanic words of the English language that employ “ph” in the place of “f.” In those words, the only time “ph” is encountered is in compound words, where the first word ends with “p” and the second begins with “h” (i.e. “up-hold” or “hap-hazard”). I am also not aware of Latin-derived words where “ph” is not read as “f.” Apart from each other, the languages may have been consistent structurally (though Latin would have been more awkward), but combined indiscriminately, they produce an orthografic glitch that needs to be corrected in favor of symbol economy.    

Here we note a violation of the Individualist Premise. Rather than scientifically adjust the mechanisms of a language to meet the logical conclusions of their own minds, the scores of generations of second-handers had tabulated meticulously every incongruence, every foible, every quirky exception, provided that it had a history of at least two thousand years. Those worshippers of the past had been replaced by worshippers of the present mobs at the turn of the twentieth century. The “societal convention” theorists (the linguist specimens of collective subjectivism), though no longer explicitly avowing their veneration for all things Latin, have renounced and condemned as deviant behavior even the minuscule attempts at systematization performed by their predecessors. To them, flaws in the logic of a language are of no import; since all things are arbitrary and a product of unspoken social norms, the simple fact of their existence elevates them to the status of sacred cows. Those are the men who currently compile our dictionaries and serve as transmitters of “the social legacy” of the English language. Yet, as Peikoff brilliantly observes, language is neither social nor a legacy; it is objective and individually ameliorable. It is the technology of conceptualization. If a man’s car motor possessed a minor short circuit that would waste energy and gradually drain it of the ability to transport him to his chosen destination, would he not endeavor to fix the problem? Why are most men, then, hesitant to address an analogous waste of time, ink, and cognitive capacity in the realm of language?

By the Integration Premise, concepts and words are inextricably linked, and words are inseparably tied to their constituent components. If any part of this chain should possess a logical flaw, the reverberations are cognitively crippling. Any man who endeavors to champion objectivity and Reason will be undercut in this very plight by any subtle enough opponent, who can merely claim that the very language a rational man uses in not scientific, but rather mimicked from generations of mimickers. Defending the implications of absolute reality with arbitrary hash (on any level, orthografy included) is like defending individualism using Nietzsche’s Dionysian framework. It is a feeble support for the firm doctrine it seeks to uphold. Moreover, this inconsistency is devastating to an individual thinker’s mind. A man who knows coherence, order, and structure to be the means of attaining success will be undermined in his attempts to achieve it by the thing closest and most essential to him, which underlies all of his plans, deliberations, speech, and interactions. He will have to settle for a compromise between food and poison, in which he cannot prevail.

The consistent individualist will, in such a situation, resolve to take matters into his own hands and restructure elements of a language as suits the identity of the concepts he seeks to discover and present. Shakespeare was known for the invention of hundreds of words, a vast quantity of which have successfully endured for centuries. Benjamin Franklin, noting the horrendous chaos of spellings such as “plough” and “gaol” suggested the simpler and more sensible “plow” and “jail” instead. Interestingly enough, the rationality of the Founding Fathers suggested to them the employment of precisely the design I advocate in this essay. A browsing of the original (orthografically unchanged) text of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, one would encounter, in this respect, a consistency that spreads to even proper names (as in “Filadelfia”). Their innovation was lost as our country devolved over the next two centuries into a land dominated by an entrenched traditionalist/collective subjectivist orthodoxy. But, in fact, every linguistic accomplishment had to originate at some time within the mind of an exceptional individual (as no “collective consciousness” exists). The prominent authors, publishers, and scientists of a given era have often been the pioneers of new linguistic territory or the reformers of the old.

A man of generally rational persuasions may object to employing this adjustment due to the deliberate effort this would require of him initially to spell words that had formerly come to him in an instant. Rand had noted correctly that a skill employed frequently becomes automatized within the mind such that, in writing for example, focusing on a given concept becomes sufficient to recall the word and its spelling. A similar automatization takes place in the realm of value-premises, which become integrated into emotions. Yet, though it is an indispensable and potentially useful process, automatization does not guarantee logical correctness or even freedom from harm. Just as an improper emotion may arise from integration of a false filosofy or of eclectic hash, so may an improper internalization of any facet of language, from the contradictory use of words to the inconsistent employment of letters, result in time wasted and determination paralyzed. (Observe, for example, the widespread modern fenomenon of prefacing every statement with the word “like.” It is an automatized habitual reaction, difficult to break, but a colossal impediment to eloquence). The correction of any habit requires deliberate effort, but the rewards are worthwhile. When Blaise Pascal invented the first calculating machine, the clerks of France mounted a campaign to abolish it, fearing that their manual counting skills would be rendered obsolete. Once several of them familiarized themselves with the invention, however, and amplified their productivity a thousandfold, they ceased to whine and began to go about their work in an improved manner. The technology of matter and the technology of conceptualization, drawing on the same base of filosofical fundamentals, bring forth similar promises in this respect.

Since language is the province of an individual objectively employing his mind, it is not proper to permit expert boards, central committees, or even private conglomerates of tradition or poll-mired second-handers to unconditionally determine the nature of one’s written and oral expression. Any thinking sindividual who sees a superior alternative to the linguistic status quo should be entitled to propose a change or embrace a change put forth by another, should he find the arguments in favor consistent with the conclusions of his own mind. Of course, given the extensive history of mimicking in the English language, and the need to communicate a superior alternative, an immediate modification of every faulty aspect would necessitate a Herculean labor of internalization on the part of anyone wishing to progress in this regard. The improvement of the language should be gradual, with time windows given for the proliferation and assimilation of each individual reform. The orthografic consistency of “f” sounds should be a sufficient amelioration for at least the next three months. Afterward, further faults of the language should be pointed out and remedied.

 I urge every man reading this essay to spread it to others and employ the change in his further written communication. A sufficiently large utilization of the new system might open even the bastions of dictionary publishing companies and educational institutions to the improvement.  

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