By Hassan Ajami
The following article is from Professor Hassan Ajami who volunteered his literature with Das Tor. We would like to thank him for an interesting piece about analytic philosophy. Professor Ajami is a Lebanese author and a freelance journalist. He teaches Arabic language at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and provides his students with detailed information about the Arab-Islamic culture, which is beneficial for business and politics in the Arab-Islamic world. He has 17 published books in Arabic covering topics in philosophy, culture, language and literature. Most recently he published a book in English entitled “Arab-Islamic Communication & Arabic Language.”
The information theory of language holds that any language is an inherited set of information. In this article, we will rely on English and Arabic language in order to prove that the information theory of language is true, and then we will discuss its explanatory power.
In English, “formation” is linguistically derivable from “information” and vice versa. Thus, according to English language, the formation of the world is based on information, and information is obtained in light of the formation of the world. This shows that English language contains the previus inherited information about the relationship between the formation of the world and information. And thus, English is an inherited set of information. Another example of the fact that English is an inherited set of information is the following: in English, the words “real”, “reality” and “realize” are linguistically derived from each other. This implies that, according to English, reality is that which could be realized and vice versa. Therefore, English language contains the inherited information that reality is that which could be realized and vice versa. This indicates that English is an inherited set of information.
Similarly, Arabic language is an inherited set of information. In Arabic, “marifa”, i.e. knowledge, is linguistically derivable from “orf”, i.e. tradition. Thus, according to Arabic language, knowledge is based on tradition. This shows that Arabic language contains the information that knowledge resides in tradition, and thus Arabic language is an inherited set of information. Another example is the following: in Arabic, “tawasol”, i.e. communication, is linguistically derivable from “wasala”, i.e. he connected. Therefore, according to Arabic language, communication is that which connects people. This also shows that Arabic language is an inherited set of information. In the previous example, Arabic contains the inherited information that communication is the mechanism which connects people. All of this shows that both English and Arabic provide definitions and analyses of different concepts. And thus, both are inherited sets of information, leading to the general conclusion that language is an inherited set of information.
This theory of language has a strong explanatory power, i.e. it explains very interesting linguistic phenomena. Hence it is highly plausible. For example, since language is an inherited set of information, and given that people think and behave in light of their information, it follows that language strongly participates in forming people’s minds and behaviors. This is how this theory of language explains why and how language shapes culture, and thus why different languages form different cultures. In addition, since language is an inherited set of information, and given that some of our information reflects the facts of the world, it follows that some of our linguistic constructions, such as some of our sentences, reflect the facts. This is how this theory of language explains why and how some of our sentences are successfully able to express and reflect the facts of the world. Further, since language is an inherited set of information, and given that biological genes are sets of information, it is natural that language exists in our genes as many biologists and linguists claim such as Noam Chomsky. This is how this theory explains why and how language resides in our genes.
The information theory of language also captures why many of our linguistic constructions are meaningful. Since language is information, and given that any information is meaningful (whether it is true or false, otherwise it is not informative), it is natural that many of our linguistic constructions are meaningful. This is how the information theory of language explains why many of our linguistic forms are meaningful. Further, since language is information, it follows that language is abstract and concrete at the same time as information is. This is why language is manifested in concrete sounds and written words and sentences, while at the same time language is abstract such that the same proposition could be expressed by different languages and in different ways by the same language.
In addition, any language has certain rules of grammar. But the rules of grammar are sets of inherited information in light of which we can successfully form linguistically accurate and meaningful sentences. Therefore, any language contains a set of inherited information. In other words, languages are constructed and used in accordance with their grammars. Yet grammars are sets of inherited information. Hence, languages are formed and used in light of their inherited information. And languages are communication tools. But communication is an exchange of information. Therefore, languages are sets of information.
We are successfully able to communicate through language because language is information. If language were not a set of information, it would be impossible for us to understand each other when we use it. And hence, it would be impossible for us to communicate. Language played, and it is still playing, an important role in our survival as a species because language is an inherited set of mostly reliable information.