Language is a set of circular references. Not only french or english, but all languages. And not only spoken languages, but all languages, including programming languages and... mathematics (math is also a language since it is used to communicate experience). Of course, that doesn't prevent the use of programming languages or mathematics to communicate scientific/technical facts... by people with the adequate load of subjective experience.

Language cannot be objective per se. It becomes objective when the entities using it carry the sufficient shared subjectivities provided by experience.

Programmers understand what is an observer pattern, since they understand what an observer is (it is not necessarily a person, but an entity that "watches" for an event... (what the hell means watching?)). A mathematician understand what a manifold is only if it has the sufficient life experience to understand what a dimension is, etc.

Scheider, describing the double-slit experiment, writes: "...The slip of card was held edgewise into the sunbeam, which was made to enter the room horizontally by means of a "looking glass" (mirror)". The amount of subjectivity in such phrase is enormous.

Everyone knows what a slip, a room, a mirror, entering, horizontally mean, but in order for an alien to understand such terminology, it would be necessary for it not only to learn to communicate using English, but also to live some years on earth, interact with the same objects we do, have some friends, live and laugh, love and fool around. That, because language being a set of circular references, all words are related, so, experience on them is necessary. If the alien is not a solid but a liquid, we would have a huge problem to help it understanding the idea, even using the most precise papers ever written and the most comprehensive dictionaries. Such problem is quite evident for people working with blind-deaf children 1.

My point is that we seem to be extremely subjective about the use of language, even if it is formal. Languages depend on the subjective human experience each user acquires. Without experience, language is just a closed set of interrelated symbols.

Please, can you provide some references to explore the understanding of the gap between what we call objective language and subjective experience? I really wonder how objective language could be.

  • The same way an algorithm can be platform-independent even though any implementation of it depends on the platform used? Language does refer to experience, which breaks the circularity, and much of experience is participation in common practice, hence not subjective.
    – Conifold
    Dec 28, 2019 at 13:12
  • What do you mean by "objective language"? Isn't it people who are objective or subjective, not the language the say, which could be identical either way? But if you want to know how to get past the circularity of language, then read up on semantic primes. Dec 28, 2019 at 13:31
  • @curiousdannii "Isn't people who are objective or subjective, not the language the say..."? No. There is no "objective people" or "subjective people" (which group belong you to?). Mathematical language is normally objective. The language that politicians or religious use is usually subjective. etc.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:03
  • @Conifold I would be interested in knowing the difference between "common practice" of measuring temperature and the subjective feeling everyone has of a temperature (which is not a "common practice"). There is a gap there. That's the point of my question. "Language does refer to experience, which breaks the circularity": False. The dictionary is a set of circular references and does not contain any experience, only words. How is the word "feeling" related to what you understand as feeling? (which is surely different of my understanding of feeling) That's the point of my question.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:09
  • How one sees thermometer readings is also private, only how they act on it is not, same with other subjective feelings. Language neither can, nor is meant to express qualia. Dictionaries only relate words to other words, on which one already learned to act by other means, that is the real reference. Interpreted language is much broader than words or dictionaries, uninterpreted language is no language at all, just empty symbols.
    – Conifold
    Dec 28, 2019 at 17:40

2 Answers 2


This is a crucial question that cannot be answered straightforwardly.

But the view you express can be challenged.

In Logical researches, Husserl draws a distinction between 2 types of signs : expressions and indications.

True, in communication, sentences indicate the mental processes that occur in my mind ( in the same way as clouds indicate the rain that is to come).

But, this is not the essential nature of language , according to Husserl.

Essentially, sentences are expressions, they express objective thoughts, meanings that are not by essence in my mind.

On this topic see also Frege, and his distinction between representation ( in my " head" ), thoughts ( senses, ideal meanings) and denotation ( objects to which linguistic items refer).

Look at the below randomly generated sentence. Does this sentence express anybody's personal thoughts? However, is it the case that it means nothing?

enter image description here


By https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_language_argument a language understood just by one person is pointless, even if it was subjectively correct.

However, since all language also originates from subjects, then the origin of language is subjective, even without considering the private language argument.

However, again by private language argument, a language understood by just one person is not useful.

Language is not objective, but it's not useful as merely subjective.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .