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[xmca] words meaning in language activity

words ARE words only in languages

language activity is pragmatically situated

these general principles are long-established and well understood -- which is not to say that there could not be anybody who would want to expound on "words" and "meaning" without wanting to know about what has been long understood by people who've investigated such things seriously.

anyway, I recall an incident that might provide an effective (certainly dramatic) example of meaning (and words) not just being matters of "vocal sounds."

This happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Probably everyone then old enough and living in Japan also heard about it; so David Ke might remember from where he was, and David Ki certainly remembers.

It was the evening of October 31 -- Halloween, the evening before All Saints Day on the Christian calendar -- when young children in the US dress up in costumes for "trick or treat" night, and older kids dress up in costumes for halloween parties.

That evening, a high-school exchange student from Japan was dressed in a white tuxedo -- a costume based on the John Travolta charater in Saturday Night Fever. Apparently he got confused about how to find his classmate's house for the halloween party he was going to.

He started walking up a driveway, presumably to ask directions if this was not the right house. A women in the house got scared seeing this white-tuxedo-wearing teenager walking up the driveway. (Later she explained that she was scared because the boy had darker skin than hers.)

She screamed for her husband. Her husband grabbed his gun (I don't remember if it was a shotgun or a rifle) and took it out to the garage, at the end of the driveway. From inside the grarage, the man yelled "Freeze!." When the boy continued walking, the man shot him dead.

Although he didn't live to testify, we have no reason to think that the boy did not hear those "vocal sounds." ( and chances are that the boy did well in science classes, and could use the word "freeze" in other contexts with no trouble at all).

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education
NEWARK  DE  19716


"those who fail to reread
 are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                  -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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