Re: Language and meaning

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Thu 17 Apr 2003 - 15:19:30 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "The influence of memes on genetic evolution"


    What you describe is a feature of just about every language I'm familiar with. During the occupation of Japan by the U.S., the Japanese quickly picked up syllables of English and incorporated them into Japanese words and sentences. Chinese, being a monosyllabic language to begin with, is built on such a system. Nearly every written Chinese word has two parts: a phonetic element that suggests the pronounciation and a meaning element that suggests the subject matter. A new written word was created by taking a homophone that talked about a new subject and combining it with a an old phoneme that had a similar sound. English began picking up bits and pieces of Latin and French to make new words over 1,000 years ago.

    Today I see people taking words and reversing the trend of using the first part of a word to create a new usage by using the last part instead. I was puzzled when talking to a person in Ireland who used the term "pooter" to mean computer. Lately I've noticed several other terms that are derived the same way. Whatever changes take place in society are reflected in the speech of the members of that society. Science and technology are obvious contributors as they add more words to our vocabulary pool. The main difference in todays trend is the contribution computers are making with their need to shorten words and phrases to fit an ever smaller screen.

    Mostly, such changes begin as fads by younger people who feel their language is inadequate to express new trends and ideas. Older people have more trouble inventing new ways of saying things that catch on with their peers. They also have a harder time understanding the changes. I think it has a lot to do with the way the brain works -- it grows faster when we are young and becomes more fixed and inflexible on average beyond our 20s and 30s. For clues to how we turn bits and pieces into new words and ideas, I recommend THE WAY WE THINK by Gilles Fouconnier and Mark Turner. They examine conceptual blending and the mind's hidden complexities.


    _________________________________________________________________ Add photos to your e-mail with MSN 8. Get 2 months FREE*.

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 17 Apr 2003 - 15:28:00 GMT