Word and object - indicative words
The basis of general semantics is in itself very simple: The word is not the object it stands for. Trivial though this may seem, the reality of the daily use of language shows that there is a large amount of confusion surrounding these concepts. This confusion occurs in a wide range of cases. At one end of the spectrum there are the cases that can be qualified as psychological disorder, for example people that are scared of the word "spider". More common but nonetheless notoriously stupid is the connection of an emotion to the word itself, as shown by a recent interview (2005) with truck driver Adolf Hittler, describing incidents related to his name: ‘I received anonymous phone calls, threats like “You should be locked up in a concentration camp”’.
At the other end of the spectrum of confusion between word and object is the equalization of individual members of a group with group’s characteristics. In principle this is wrong, but often it is unavoidable, because it is the only way to discuss a group at all. And it is inevitable that we have to able to talk about groups.
The fact that we position the latter example at the end of the spectrum that deals with the mild cases shows that the word-object confusion in general is a serious problem. It does not reveal itself so much in daily activity such as shopping, which can be always be handled by the act pointing out. The problem mainly occurs in situations where emotions, are involved, either individually or on the scale of society.
There is also another side to the coin. The fact that word and object are decoupled creates unlimited freedom in the application of words. There is little doubt that this unlimited freedom is the reason the mankind can think at all in the normal sense of the word. Had this freedom not existed, then the use of language would be nothing more than the summing up of observed phenomena."It rains", "It is getting lighter again", etcetera.
This freedom in the relation between word and object facilitates the existence of a variety in types of words. Above we already have introduced indicative words, the words used for shopping, referring to visible objects. These words are the foundation of language. Of another kind are the words that describe the relationship between objects: 'left' as in 'Albert stands left of Mary', 'right', 'in front of', 'behind', 'remote', etcetera, or the words that describe the changes in to the object itself: older, younger, newer. These are the words that science managed to describe increasingly accurate as ‘place’, ‘time’ etc, culminating into the discipline called physics. At its turn, physics has found out that that like ordinary words, space and time have no intrinsic, absolute value, but only in a relational sense, i.e. the position of one point in relation to another. So these words could be coined "relational words", as a subcategory of the indicative words.
One of the freedoms caused by decoupling the word from the object pertains to the changes of the object itself. While the objects may change due to the passing of time, the indicative words that belong to these objects are not subject to the change of the objects themselves. Strictly speaking this is not logical: if an object, for example a person, changes because he grows older, then the indicative word for the object should change accordingly. However, everybody knows that it does not work like that. Each human being receives an indicative word at his birth, a name, and that name does not change during the cause of his life. This is remarkable, considering the dramatic changes this person goes through over time. It may not even be such a bad idea to indicate older people with a generic “grandma” or “grandpa” - their age determines their behaviour in so many aspects that it is more relevant than their names.
This discord between the change of the word and the change of the object is one of the main fundamental errors in current application of language. Strictly speaking we should attach a mandatory attribute to a large number of words: Mary2006 or John1973. In that case it is immediately clear that Mary2006 is not the same as Mary1994. However, this is not feasible. The only option that remains is to teach people to become aware of this process and to make them value these indicative words for what they are: symbols of reality, but nothing more than symbols, with many short comings.
The second important new word category is the collective word. Collections group together a number of separate things, each with their own indicative word, for example the 'family', consisting of mother, father and the children. Most of the problems in the usage of language occur with words of the type collective words. A large part of general semantics deals with these categories of words, starting with the Ladder of abstractions.