Langauge and Emergence

Emergence, the idea that the sum is bigger than its parts is a central concept in systems thinking, a typical example for illustration is water, it’s impossible for the normal layman to predict it would be a liquid from its basic components(Hydrogen and Oxygen are both gases).

Days ago, I started thinking whether language might exhibit similar kind of behavior, I noticed that phrasal verbs would be a perfect example, if you take “look after” which one of its meanings is to“to take care of ”, it’s impossible to predict this meaning from”look” or “after” separately, only when both are put together a new unique meaning will “ emerge”.

Idiomatic expressions are even harder, a combination of words, verbs and prepositions that are not related and the meaning of the expression can’t be understood from parts of the sentence, one needs to gain that meaning through interaction with society, as illustration, try to think about this “ It rained dogs and cats”.

If we consider language at a bigger scale, we can think of the whole text as one system, its parts are interacting to produce a new meaning, texts may also work together so that a different meaning emerges. After I did some literature review, I found that a whole field of research is dedicated to answer my question. How applying system analysis can help us in understanding each others and avoid many conflicts in our communication? This would be a question to ask in my next blog.