In "Reference and Meaning" Putnam mentions, as an aside, that language requires a certain "division of linguistic labor" that has not been previously recognized.

By this, as I take it, he simply means the modern social situation in which many words or concepts, such as the term "atom," cannot be analyzed by most people who use them. They depend upon a hierarchy in which the proper use of a growing number of commonly used terms implicitly depend upon agreements among experts, who can presumably supply reasonably consistent definitions if asked.

As I say, this is merely a brief aside in this famous essay. Its implications would seem to be largely sociological. (My own interest is in the class structure of symbolic systems, more specifically in "money," and a multi-tiered use of ostensibly constant monetary terms and denominations within a shared money exchange system.)

Is Putnam's idea here one that is well-known or has been developed elsewhere? Or are there similar concepts in philosophy, or in specifically linguistic-symbolic areas of sociology, that might prove fruitful in my amateur researches?

Again, my general interest is in the formal structure of common terms that may function with double meanings based on "class hierarchy" within a single community of speakers.


As far as I am aware, its a standard distinction. The idea is that the appropriate reference of lots of terms is not directly known by everyone, but we all use those terms correctly because we interact in some more or less direct manner, with the experts. An example might be `brain'.

Putnam is a semantic externalist, so he holds that there must be some connection between brains' and brains forbrains' to refer to brains. However, I have never seen a brain not had anything to do with one. This does not stop me from referring to brains because I have an appropriate, indirect, connection to people who do see brains etc.

Thus, there is a division in linguistic labour: I rely on others to ensure that the reference of some of my terms is correct.

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