I am dealing with a question whether is a human language a prison for a mind and also whether is there something above a human language.

my progress: I have read articles on wikipedia about metalinguistics and linguistic determinism.

There are eight word classes in English: noun, adjective, pronoun, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection. They seem to be enough. One can name a thing (car), its attribute (yellow) and what it is doing (is moving) etc.

Concrete nouns serve to name material objects. But how should I address material objects I cannot perceive through my senses? My senses are limited, therefore my perception of reality is limited. Or how should I address abstract nouns that do not exist to name phenomena nobody has ever noticed?

I can only write or say a sentence involving words I have seen or heard only about things I have ever perceived / phenomenon I have ever noticed.

  • 8
    I think this is more a philosophy problem than a language problem, so you might get better answers on Philosophy.SE.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 22:35
  • 1
    I cross posted this on philosophy SE: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/90499/…
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 8:09
  • 6
    "There are eight word classes in English" according to one (rather old-fashioned) theory of grammar. Whatever number you put in that claim, it is a statement about the mechanics of English, not about what it can express or distinguish.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 11:22
  • 1
    What do you make of a poem like Jabberwocky? Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 21:23
  • 1
    Your question seems to conflate thinking with the use of language. It's perfectly possible to think without language. Consider trying to figure out whether two shapes with different orientations are the same, or what they would look like if flipped back to front or were mirror imaged or whether they have rotational symmetry. None of those types of thinking involve language or verbal reasoning. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 2:42

2 Answers 2


The linguistic part of this seems to be encapsulated in the assertion that "I can only write or say a sentence involving words I have seen or heard only about things I have ever perceived / phenomenon I have ever noticed", which is clearly false – you can say things and know words that refer to things that you have not directly experienced. Words and language represent more than just "that which you have directly perceived", although everything in language can ultimately be reduced to something perceived. The lexicon is chock-full of hierarchically-arranged words, such as "cat", "dog", "mammal", "snake", "reptile", "animal". You can never directly perceive "cat" or "dog", you only perceive a specific instance of what the word refers to. We have the ability to abstract away from the concrete instances and discern general concepts, associated with words like "cat", "dog" and so on. You can then arrange those concepts into other groups like "mammal" or "reptile". In fact, almost all words of human languages refer to something that cannot be directly perceived, since it's impossible to perceive the totality of what "cat", "dog" and "snake" refer to.

The ability to assign a specific label to a mental grouping of "things" (not just mass-bearing objects but also attributes and actions) – that is, language – makes it possible to devise complex conceptual hierarchies of orthogonal properties. Rather than imprisoning the mind, it empowers the mind, by allowing you to arrange your perceptual experiences systematically. A word like "quark" referring to some bizarre tiny particle is thus made possible because we can create words like "molecule" that refer to things that we cannot directly see, but which we know exist because of effects that they have on things we can see, and from that we can even arise at other words and idea like "atom" (by observing other properties, though not directly seeing the atoms), and so on down to the quark. This would be impossible if we only have names for things that we directly perceive.


"I can only write or say a sentence involving words I have seen or heard only about things I have ever perceived / phenomenon I have ever noticed."

That sentence is true when applied to a human being. You can only write or say a sentence with words you know. You cannot write or say a sentence with words you do not know. [I can't even believe I had to write that. :)]

What makes us human is language. As Jacques Lacan noted and people don't seemed to have picked up on is that We are speaking beings, or êtres parlants. However, your question is philosophically flawed. It is flawed because language "just is" a human attribute, and there cannot be anything above or below language as language is not a referent (thing) located in space. Language is the realm of the human subject.

As for perception of reality, there is a difference between reality and the real.

The real is this:

In continental philosophy, the Real (or the Real Order of the Borromean knot)1 is the totality of reality, the intelligible form of the horizon of truth of the field-of-objects that has been disclosed,2 and is opposed in the unconscious to the Symbolic (fantasy, dreams, hallucinations):4[6] "What has been foreclosed from the Symbolic reappears in the Real."[7] In depth psychology and human geography, the Real can be particularly described as a "negative space", a philosophical void of sociality and subjectivity, a traumatic consensus of intersubjectivity, or as an absolute noumenalness between signifiers.[13] The real

How can this be shown to someone, this difference between reality and the real? Like this:

Imagine you have a shelf of books, lined up one after the other, without any space between them. OK, that's very usual. Now, imagine you remove a (one) book from the shelf so there is a space where it was. There is a space there now between two of the books. So, how can one describe this situation? Well, commonly, one might say: There is a book missing from the shelf. [to refer to that space]. But here's the truth: "Nothing is missing in the real". This little thought experiment shows this difference.

Lacan's concept of speech as a "symbolic exchange" which "links human beings to each other'" 2 is clearly influenced by the work of Mauss and Lévi-Strauss, especially their analysis of the exchange of gifts. symbolic system

Animals, by the way, "speak" but they cannot wield signifiers and signifieds. As funny and interesting take on all this can be found in this post by Leon Brenner, which I quote in part here:

This unique symbolic capacity is captured in the very human aptitude to lie by telling the truth. An ability which is perfectly depicted in a joke Freud tells about two Jewish people talking in a train station. This joke is worth being quoted at length – after which I will leave you to ruminate on the Kantian notion that dictates that one should always tell the truth.

The Joke:

“Two Jews met in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia. ‘Where are you going?’ asked one. ‘To Cracow’, was the answer. ‘What a liar you are!’ broke out the other. ‘If you say you’re going to Cracow, you want me to believe you’re going to Lemberg. But I know that in fact you’re going to Cracow. So why are you lying to me?'” (Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, p. 115)

Lacan and his animals

Obviously, language used by some humans (speech) can be used to manipulate other human beings. Not everything a person feels can be expressed by and in language. There is an inadequacy here that is a fact. Human beings can only speak and can point to the real. Reality is a subjective thing (it belongs to subjects, humans). Not everyone's "reality" is the same. The horrors of the Holocaust, for example, are just that horrors. And unfortunately, we are again witnessing horrors ... in Ukraine.

In the U.S. structural linguistics is found to be passé by some. It is useful to be very careful here. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the "debate" on this issue. structural linguistics.

There is a fundamental difference between subject and object in science and life.

Thomas Nagel famously argued that explaining subjective experience—the "what it is like" to be something—is currently beyond the reach of scientific inquiry, because scientific understanding by definition requires an objective perspective, which, according to Nagel, is diametrically opposed to the subjective first-person point of view. Furthermore, one cannot have a definition of objectivity without being connected to subjectivity in the first place since they are mutual and interlocked.


Every time a scientist writes an academic paper or conducts a scientific experiment, her or his subjectivity comes into play. Without it, they couldn't even do their work. This fundamental fact is often overlooked by those who claim that "objectivity" exists on its own, as if a human being can completely divorce themselves from their subjectivity and only be guided by an object.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.