Language as Social Convention

In understanding the role of objectivity in language, two types of statements have been presented – personal preferences, which are entirely subjective; and social conventions, which are subjective in their creation or existence yet objective in their influence and knowledge.  Let’s move progressively towards a more objective statement.

Two examples of social conventions presented last post were traffic lights and money.  So, what about the statement “That traffic light is green” or “That dollar bill is green”.  This is certainly not a personal preference, nor subjective – all people looking at these objects can reach this valid conclusion.  Furthermore, this is not societally or culturally dependent; a green light or a green bill taken elsewhere will still hold the property of green color – it is apparently an inherent property of that bulb or that ink.

Is this, then, an entirely objective statement that informs us about reality?  Upon further analysis, this statement still is based on a social convention.  Language, as has been discussed earlier, is itself a social convention.  The main point of the statement about the traffic light or the dollar bill is its green color.  However, the term “green” is simply a name that, like all other names, was at one point or another agreed upon – the naming process of language, being a social convention, is also ontologically subjective and epistemologically objective.  Additionally, languages, both between and even within, contain myriad connotations, subtle meanings, and context-specific interpretations.  In order to understand the concepts, ideas, and underling reality being conveying through the vehicle of language, one needs to go beyond names…one needs to get to the objectivity that those names symbolize.

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