POSSIBLE POINTS OF VIEW ON NATURAL LANGUAGE

One could try to define natural language in one of the following ways:

· The principal means for expressing human thoughts;

· The principal means for text generation;

· The principal means of human communication.

The first definition—“the principal means for expressing human thoughts”—touches upon the expressive function of language. Indeed, some features of the outer world are reflected in the human brain and are evidently processed by it, and this processing is just the human thought. However, we do not have any real evidence that human beings directly use words of a specific natural language in the process of thinking. Modes of thinking other than linguistic ones are also known. For example, mathematicians with different native languages can have the same ideas about an abstract subject, though they express these thoughts in quite different words. In addition, there are kinds of human thoughts—like operations with musical or visual images—that cannot be directly reduced to words.

As to the second definition—“the principal means for text generation”—there is no doubt that the flow of utterances, or texts, is a very important result of functioning of natural language.

However, communication includes not only generation (speaking), but also understanding of utterances. This definition also ignores the starting point of text generation, which is probably the target point of understanding. Generation cannot exist without this starting point, which is contents of the target utterance or the text in the whole. We can call these contents meaning.

FIGURE IV.1. The role of language in human communication.


As to the third definition—“the principal means of human communication,”—we can readily agree that the communicative function is the main function of natural language.

Clearly, only persons living in contact with society really need a language for efficient communication. This definition is perhaps correct, but it does not touch upon two main aspects of communication in natural language, namely, speaking and understanding, and thus it does not try to define these aspects, separately and in their interaction.

Thus, these definitions are not sufficient for our purposes. A better definition should touch upon all useful components of the ones given above, such as text, meaning, generation, and understanding. Such definition will be given in the next section.






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