Introduction to Language

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This page consists of videos that illustrate basic points about how language works. It’s not exhaustive, and does not get into the more technical discussions, but will orient you to the fundamental ideas of how to think about language.

Table of Contents

  1. On Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists
  2. “Words only have meaning because we give it to them. Even onomatopoeia.”
  3. “Language is fluid and ever-changing.”
  4. “Dictionaries don’t tell you what words mean; they only tell you how those words have been used.”
  5. “A word’s meaning is only determined by context, not by dictionaries.”
  6. “Meaning is on the level of discourse, not on the level of words. Consider the hermeneutical circle.”
  7. For further viewing (YouTube Playlist)

1. On Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists

Andreea S. Calude, “Does grammar matter?”

A basic introduction to Prescriptivism & Descriptivism from TED-Ed.

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Word Crimes”

A good example of the prescriptivist grammarian’s position,even though Weird Al may not be totally sincere about his song.

Stephen Fry, “Kinetic Typography – Language”


A good example of a descriptivist grammarian’s position.

2. “Words only have meaning because we give it to them. They are culturally-conditioned. Even onomatopoeia.”

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Cats_ChapMangano

Nerdwriter, “What is the Treachery of Images?”

3. “Language is fluid and ever-changing”

Kate Gardoqui, “How did English Evolve?”

Tom Scott, “All the Colours, Including Grue”

John McWhorter, “A brief history of plural word…s”


Tom Scott, “Ghoti and the Ministry of Helth: Spelling Reform”


Gina Cooke, “Why is there a ‘b’ in doubt?”

John McWhorter, “Birth of a nickname”

4. “Dictionaries don’t tell you what words mean; they only tell you how those words have been used.”

Anne Curzan, “What makes a word real‘?”

5. “A word’s meaning is determined by context, not by dictionaries.”

John McWhorter, “Txtng is killing language. JK!!!”

6. “Meaning is on the level of discourse, not on the level of words. Consider the hermeneutical circle.”

Emma Bryce, “Buffalo buffalo buffalo: One-word sentences and how they work”

7. For Further Viewing

For How to do a Word Context Study
for a biblical passage, see bibtheo.com/wordstudy

YouTube Playlist on Language

Pinterest Pinboard on Language

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