The "modal grid" underlying language, communication, translation and the learning a new language

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Abstract:

Most modern linguists emphasise the fact that, as De Saussure states it, the “bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary”. Although this emphasis may prompt one to fathom that language use as such is com¬pletely arbitrary, there are diverse considerations supporting the view that language is also co-determined by an underlying, constant framework. The latter reveals the two basic dimensions of human experience, reflected within language in the presence of verbs, nouns (and property terms; attributes). Verbs and property terms are made possible by the multiple functional domains of our experience related to the how of things and not to their concrete what. These aspectual (ontic) domains actually serve as points of entry to our experience of and reflection upon things and events within reality, expressed in linguistic patterns. As constant cadres (frameworks) these points of entry make possible (co-condition) the rich variability found in different languages. De Saussure already had to concede, in an almost contradictory fashion, that there is both an element of mutability and immutability attached to language. It will be argued that the horizon of the functional conditions of language ultimately underlies meaningful communication and that acknowledging it enables a new approach both to translation and the learning of new languages. In conclusion a remark about methodology is made.