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I'm wondering if there are any languages that are basically just streams of basic sound blocks, like letters or syllables, and they don't have words.

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This raises the question, "what is a word?" Perhaps surprisingly, linguists don't have a solid answer to that question. The most common definition cross-linguistically is "a unit that's useful to describe how this particular language works".

However, all languages have morphemes (groups of sounds that have meaning), and in a language with no real distinction between groups of morphemes (like in Chinese) these would probably be considered words in and of themselves.

TL;DR: the concept of a "word" doesn't have a hard and fast definition, so it'll be defined in whatever way is most useful for any given language. If nothing else, a word can be defined to be a morpheme, which is a unit that exists in every language without exception. (Without morphemes, you don't have a language.)

  • I guess then, a word is a "complete message". – Lance Pollard Aug 28 '18 at 5:02
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    @LancePollard "What is a word?" is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! "Complete message" is a good idea, but why is "a word is a complete message" not a single word in English then? I'm fond of the definition that "a word is the thing you put spaces on either side of", personally. – Draconis Aug 28 '18 at 5:03
  • Lol yeah that is a common one too. It's so hard to deal with meaning modeling way tho! – Lance Pollard Aug 28 '18 at 5:04
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    @LancePollard Another definition is that a "word" is something stored as a single unit in your brain. But in that case some bound morphemes are also "words", as are phrases like "look down on". You'd think linguists would have an answer to this by now, but nope! – Draconis Aug 28 '18 at 5:10

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