Poll: Language is 'the infinite use of finite means'. Wilhelm von Humboldt

Language is 'the infinite use of finite means'. Wilhelm von Humboldt

I agree
I disagree.

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This Poll:

  • Votes: 910
  • Comments: 15
  • Added: September 2003




Chomsky says that since you cannot generate a non-arbitrary number for the total of sentences then it's infinite.


It is widely assumed that Chomsky is correct to apply this algorithmic theorum from math to linguistics, we ARE finite.
Dont be overwhemled by large numbers in the next few lines-
Our life is a finite period of time (maximum 120 years) each sentence is a finite length (perhaps 16-60 hours long, with the relevant finite number of words)
and there are a finite number of words in any language.
so there are a FINITE number of possible sentences that can be uttered
Where the hell does the infinite output come from?
If i am missing something tell me,


I actually asked him and that was the answer he gave, To be honest, I disagree; just because we cannot calculate something does not mean it is not capable of being counted.


Words are signs. They, among other things; 1)point to something in the external world 2) attribute a quality to a subject 3)express some relation between objects. Words do not mean anything in themselves - their meaning is arbitrary. Essentially words are a metaphore that man overlay's on the external world.

Consider: "I am mean"

I = subject, am = relation, mean = quality.

I have now expressed 'SOME' quality about myself. In order for this sentence to be TRUE to me - it must refere to some understanding i have of my own past. In order for this statement to be TRUE to someone else - It must refere to some persons subjective observation of my behavior or action. As you can see there are a plentitude of meanings this statement can have considering what reference of understanding(who is listening or reading my statement). Not to mention the infinite possible FALSE meanings this statement might have. Perhaps i am not mean. Perhaps what you understand by my saying this statement isn't true.

A few other ways to interpret this statement.

1) if language always refers to the external world and the external world is always changing. The meanings of the words themselves must always be changing. The meaning of the words themselves must always be changing.

2) If all we can know (linguistically in this case) are the content of our own mind and never the contents of anyone else's mind. Then the meanings of words must be established by an observer experiencing how the words are used. Each Observer will come to know how a word is used in a different manner. Therefore any given word will have a different meaning for each person that 'understands' the word.

(post must be cut short do to beers i must drink. perhaps i will continue this post another time.)


Try this formula:
Chomsky - Computer=+ Dr. Johnson

Bon Cunanan

Obviously, the reason is self-evident. This, however, runs counter to the principles in empiiricism and behaviorism.


grettings from Tirana


Finite means: the words {I, John, Mary, knows, that, is, tall}

Infinite use: "John knows that Mary knows that John knows that Mary knows.......that John is tall."

Aside from obvious orthagonal constraints such as memory, fatigue, mortality, the human language faculty can construct a sentence of infinite length using a finite set of words.


well all, in relation to language acquisition this would mean that words you come to possess in the beginning of language development are not restricted to the sentences you first heard them in. for example as an infant you were probably assulted with the phrase "can you say mama?" however these words 'can' 'you' 'say'.... are not limited to the phrase "can you say mama?' but rather used in different contexts as you begin to develop language creating infinite uses of these words in different ways in different sentences. I mean could you imagine having to make up different words for each sentecense you uttered. So finite means would refer to you only hearing "can you say mama?' and the infinite use would refer to you being able to say "mama could you please be quiet!"a few days down the road


There are a thousand ways to say "no."


language is an tool to enhance your skill

100 per cent correct. Compare the very limited number of human sounds and the unlimited combinations of these sounds to produce millions of words in many different languages. Then compare the limited lexicon of any given language and the infinite number of sentences created by the limited words of any Natural Language.


all i have read above seems to be correct, but which one IS the correct one? it depends to you,the reader, mind. anyway, this comes to my mind:
the possibility of having infinite number of sentences exist. it is true. but let's have a different view.
we have finite number of letters. we all agree on that. now what do we know about words? in a logical thinking, we purely conclude that we have infinite number of words. but is it true in real world? how many words are listed in encyclopedias, adding all of them together?
in fact, as a mathematician i am, the concept of infinite is hypothetical. as an example, we can never find infinite number of john and mary!
also, being a big number doesn't mean being infinity! so hypothetically the subjected sentence is true. but not in real world. moreover, what we discuss here does NOT involve what meaning we get from a sentence, though each meaning can make another sentence.
a question raises here, if the number of sentences is finite, so we may end up making new ones one day!
it is again true,HYPOTHETICALLY! no one man can use infinite sentences in a finite-length life. and we ARE all sure that FINITE number of people have lived on this no-round circle! ATTENTION! we are talking about finity and infinity, not countable and uncountable! so up to now, finite number of sentences have been used!
although it seems to be a weak proof, but seems enough, at least to me.
The main problem here is to differ REAL world that HYPOTHETICAL one.
that's all


It is infinite use, question is meaning ..
with {a, b} its possible to generate an infinte use a,aa,ab, abbb,aabbabba ....

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