Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“A word is a label that points to something other than itself. That something is called the referent.

For communication to occur, the word must point to the same thing. It’s like having a visible landmark in the distance that helps everyone find their way.”

“Let’s take an example. 

Parkour is a phenomenon in the world. If you’ve been exposed to the phenomenon and see a practitioner training, you may recognize what he/she is doing as Parkour. When talking about Parkour-as-a-phenomenon, this recognition is the referent.

Parkour however is also an idea. When talking about Parkour-as-an-idea, the referent is different. In this case, the referent is your own understanding – your internal model – of it.

The referent can be an outer pattern. – Process: Recognition
The referent can be an inner pattern. – Process: Understanding

We might call the former outer referent, and the latter inner referent.

All words have an inner referent.
Some words don’t have an outer referent.

In case of the outer referent, the landmark is clear and unambiguous.
In case of the inner referent however, it is not.

In the latter case, different people can have vastly different internal models of the same thing. For each of them, the inner referent is different. If they assume they’re talking about the same thing, they talk past one another.

How often do people define the words they use?”

“Not that often, I imagine. That carries the risk of revealing your lack of understanding.”

“The consequence is that much of what passes for communication in the world is actually non-communication.”


About Dani Trusca

Life-Artist, Thinker, Mover (Traceur)

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