What Does it Mean to Say Hello?

I am teaching myself Türkçe from an old American Foreign Service Institute resource i found online and i love what they have to say about language:

Language is a system of representation of ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ in formal symbols. These symbols are realised in communication as acts of speech which are communicative insofar as they can be understood by the hearer as representative of the symbolic language system which he has mastered.

What i am learning is a system of sounds represented by symbols, both of which “point at” an intended meaning.

I often find myself in a room surrounded by a barrage of sounds that mean nothing to me, but which obviously mean a great number of things to the people making them and hearing them.

To some of those people, the sounds i make are equally unintelligible. They are sounds represented by symbols, both of which “point at” an intended meaning,

but these sounds and their associated symbols have no inherent meaning.

Humans, words and meanings exist on a three-tiered hierarchy: between humans and concepts there are words; humans use words that refer to, or point at, certain concepts.

But when you start to realise that the concept or meaning is the only thing that remains constant because suddenly you are immersed in a group of people using a whole different system of sounds and symbols,

it is humbling to think your entire understanding of the world could mean absolutely nothing to someone who doesn’t share the same language as you.

It is humbling to think your interpretation of concepts into the sounds and symbols that constitute, say, the English language, could be entirely different from someone whose interpretation has been made in another language.

Who is right?, the person who says “Hello” or the person who says “Merhaba”.

Does it matter?, or is intention the only thing that matters?

Is intention the same as meaning?

If i intend to greet someone and i say “Hello” and they intend to greet me and they say “Merhaba” but neither of us understands the meaning of the other’s greeting, does that mean that we have not said hello?

How can we expect to ask ‘friend or foe?’ and be able to make the important distinction when someone answers in a foreign language?


One thought on “What Does it Mean to Say Hello?

  1. Wow – that is some really deep thinking there but there is logic in what you say especially regarding the Turkish language. Kudos for learning it though. Think I will be learning till the day I die!

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