Communication: A Philosophical Study of Language

By Karl Britton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE ANATOMY OF PROPOSITIONAL SIGNS

1. In previous chapters I have regarded propositional signs as unities, and have asked how they work upon their audiences. I now want to examine the internal structure of such expressions, and the different terms and constituents to be found as parts of them; and I want to discuss the relation between sentence-structure and the structure of the referents of such sentences.

I suppose that the very simplest sort of expression which could be used to create expectations (i.e. for communication) would be some movement or sound which merely draws the attention of an audience to some object or event in the contemporary situation. Such an expression might have no definitive or analytical meaning at all--no 'necessary' connections with other signs at all. And it might even have no conventional reference at all: for it might serve to draw the attention of somebody to something even if it were a 'sign' that had never 'been used before and would never be used again. Of course such expressions will be tremendously ambiguous: but if the referent be sufficiently important and obvious (e.g. an approaching tiger) it may be used for successful communication. Such an expression could not be 'mis- applied' since it has no rules to break. And it could not indicate a false proposition. For the sign does not offer any hypothesis. 'There!' does not in itself predicate any sort of property of the here-now: it does not say that what is here-now is like other things. It is therefore quite different from 'Fire!' which does indicate a certain sort of situation, does classify the situation, and may do so untruly.

But, of course, such expressions have no reference outside

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