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What's a 'word'?

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What's a 'word'?

Postby BetterSense » Thu 12.13.2007 2:50 pm

Technically speaking. Linguistically. What's a word?

Like I've heard people that don't know Japanese at all consider that 'hasi' and 'hasi' are the 'same word'. They don't know anything about the spelling system. They're thinking 'oh, you can use that word for 'chopsticks' too'. And if Japanese has a relatively lot of these instances (homonyms?) then this person would think 'Japanese words have a lot of different meanings' or 'Japanese doesn't have very many words'.

But is it that Japanese has a lot of different words, it's just that a lot of them sound the same because of its relatively impoverished phonology?

Whereas, possibly because I am familiar with the writing system, I'm initially thinking in my head 'no, 箸 and 橋 are different words, they just sound the same'. But what about when the same kanji can have different shades of meaning? Would I consider that two words, or am I only biased because of my knowledge of the writing system? So are 箸 and 橋 two different words that sound the same, or is it one word that has two meanings? And then I think about english words like 'shoot' (n.) and 'shoot' (v.i.) and 'shoot' (v.t.) and I'll think 'oh, that's the same word, it just has X different meanings'. This is inconsistent.

My brain hurts. What's a word? How could I use a word like 'word' so much and not even know what it is?
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Chris Hart » Thu 12.13.2007 3:12 pm

I think to really understand what a word is in a language, you must understand the language to some extent. (not neccessarily fluency, but...) The people telling you this who don't speak Japanese probably are considering homophones the same word. This being given, (if English weren't their primary language) they would probably tell you 2, to, and too are the same words in English.

EDIT:
On second thought, some people with English as their native tongue would tell you that 2, to and too are the same word. You raise an interesting question.
Last edited by Chris Hart on Thu 12.13.2007 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby BetterSense » Thu 12.13.2007 3:14 pm

Are they?
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby sei » Thu 12.13.2007 3:30 pm

Ahem. Being currently studying linguistics I can say one thing for sure. There is no definition of a word. Not even linguistics know it. It's a very discussed subject.

You have to discuss from 2 points of view. The spoken language and the written language. Though linguistics is focused more on the spoken language.

My teacher actually kept saying once:

"In written language you know a word is that thing which is separated by spaces, but how do you see that in spoken language? You don't "talk" the spaces right? So how do you know what a word is?"

But that was just for debate, because there isn't a definition.

Anyway, that was just to add little bit to the discussion. ^_^

I am Portuguese though. I would give examples and elaborate, but there are certain terms I can't translate to English and not sure how accurate I'd be.
Last edited by sei on Thu 12.13.2007 4:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby BetterSense » Thu 12.13.2007 3:36 pm

I guess I'm more thinking linguistically, like I don't really care about writing.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 12.13.2007 3:41 pm

sei is right that the definition of a "word" is not clear.

I think most people would say 橋 and 箸 are two different words. On the other hand, I would consider とる meaning "to take a picture" and とる meaning "to steal" as two definitions of the same word. But I have no scientific criteria for this opinion.

What about 分かる meaning "to understand", and 分かる meaning "to be divided"? The "understand" meaning developed from the "divide" meaning, but are they separate words, or multiple definitions of the same word? (Although they are both written 分かる in strict Jouyou usage, it's common for the "understand" meaning to be written as 解かる instead).
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby BetterSense » Thu 12.13.2007 3:46 pm

Bummer.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby sei » Thu 12.13.2007 4:29 pm

You know, you really brought up something I will ask my teacher about. ^^

Now I am curious. Though from what I studied so far, I'd say they are all different words BECAUSE they have different meaning. One is a noun, other is a verb...

According to the morphemes (let's see... little pieces that form words when connected and have a meaning by themselves, e.g. "ly" at the end of "lonely" which means a state of something) that would make them distinct words. I think. But I will ask my teacher if I have a chance.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby two_heads_talking » Thu 12.13.2007 4:47 pm

hmm according to my dictionary and dictionary.com..

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/word

a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. Words are composed of one or more morphemes and are either the smallest units susceptible of independent use or consist of two or three such units combined under certain linking conditions, as with the loss of primary accent that distinguishes black'bird' (one word) from black' bird' (two words).Words are usually separated by spaces in writing, and are distinguished phonologically, as by accent, in many languages.

emphasis mine

now that seems to be a pretty defined definition of what a word is.. both in written and spoken forms.

there are other definitions as well, but if that doesn't sum it up for someone, then I wonder if anything would suffice for them?
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby sei » Thu 12.13.2007 5:31 pm

I read it, and I don't see a clear definition in it.

But still, my teacher mentioned those dictionary definitions and that is not what a word really is. =) Those things have other names and definitions.

In spoken language you hear, "Howdoyoudo'", with slight raise of tone at the end to signify question. But without having the mental picture of the written words, you can never fully part the spoken sentence in pieces which you can say are words.

I have learned how to transcribe sentences into the phonetic alphabet, and I must say, now I understand much better why it's hard to be defined. If you saw a full transcription, and understood the alphabet, you'd see how you could never separate the sounds. That is only possible by considering the written symbols we constructed for the sounds.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby prep_girl_Nessa » Thu 12.13.2007 5:50 pm

I never really thought about this before, but it is an interesting discussion.

If we want to think about it in strict vocal language, it might be interesting to consider a illiterate person. Like, how does he know what words are when he can't see the spaces written down at all? How does he know that 'Howdoyoudo' is actually 4 words? Would he even know that?

I would venture to guess that an illiterate man would break that down in his head unconsciously, and think something like, "Well, I can use the sound 'how' in different sentences with the same meaning so therefore it's it's own word." But that might be way over simplifying things.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby inuinu » Fri 12.14.2007 1:54 am

「やまとうたは 人の心を種として 万の言の葉とぞなれりける」
これが印象的な阜サだったことから、
「ことば」の漢字に「葉」を当てた文字が現代まで残ったそうです。
http://gogen-allguide.com/ko/kotoba.html

まさに句が浮オているとおり、それぞれの言葉はそれぞれの人の心によるものです。
そしてURLのページにあるとおり、
言(つまり人が本当に伝えたい事・言)の端(つまり一部)しか阜サできない部分もある、
という事がすでに「言葉」という言葉に阜サされているということになりますね。
それを含めて考えると、'word'という言葉の解釈が人それぞれで違っても
なんの不思議もないと思いますよ。実際、「単語」「言葉」どちらをウェブ翻訳にかけても
'word'と訳されますが、日本人にとってはそのどちらの意味に重きを置いて解釈するかで
考え方も変わってくると思います。
「単語」のほうがもっと定義としては明確になるとは思いますが、それでもやはり
曖昧な部分はあるので、誰にとっても共通の結論というものは
なかなか導き出せないと思いますけどね。

ついでですが、「単語」で検索していて、こんなページを見つけました。
もしかしたら考えるヒントになるかも知れません。
http://www.akatsukinishisu.net/kanji/longword.html
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Chris Hart » Fri 12.14.2007 9:15 am

I look at that definition, and when trying to apply it to Japanese, it's about as clear as mud. Seems like it was primarily written with languages with an alphabetical charset in mind.
Last edited by Chris Hart on Fri 12.14.2007 9:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby two_heads_talking » Fri 12.14.2007 10:48 am

and i think you all are trying to make this so much more difficult than it really is..

like a said in another thread.. you are acting like the professor of math, teaching 4th graders simple algebra and using quantum theory as the basis of your approach..

good God people. "keep it simple stupid." K.I.S.S.is an acronym that really punches the power of learning home. if you want to make it look like you know more about it my over complicating it, you are accomplishing your goal. at least not here anyways.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.14.2007 12:39 pm

Look, if you don't like a thread, why don't you just ignore it, instead of coming in and trying to tell everyone else not to discuss it? The original poster asked "technically speaking, linguistically" what's a word. If the topic doesn't interest you, just move on.
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