“The red car”, “The car is red.”, “The car exists in a state of redness.”, “The car has the attribute “color” that has the value “red”.”, “The car can be described as red.”, “The car emits red light.”, “The car is painted red.”, etc. Why does the English language have so much trouble with “relationships”?
We asked this question before, but we never really answered it. The answer partly has to do with an expectation of a singular, “correct” way of symbolizing what we are trying to communicate. And, with all the different wordings, it may be difficult to see that there actually is a “universal” sameness about all the different ways we worded “the red car”.
“the red car” is actually a picture. “The car is red.” is also a picture. “The car exists in a state of redness.” is a picture. All the different ways of phrasing it are all really different ways of picturing “the red car”, and really, the picture is the same. It’s just a matter of labeling different parts of the picture, which is what our words are meant to do. The term “grammar” actually refers to drawing pictures. A diaGRAM, ideoGRAM, holoGRAM, instaGRAM, . . . “grammar” is from the same root, and this illuminates the problem very well. Our grammar is HOW we draw the picture. Different people, different groups, different languages draw the picture differently. The challenge is overcoming that difference in style to arrive at that same object that is being addressed, despite all the different phrasings and languages we might use to address it.
“The car is red.” is a simple sentence and it is a simple picture as far as sentences and pictures go. Unfortunately, nothing in the universe is really simple. The universe is like a giant fractal and the closer you look, the more you find. Our challenge is not the “what” to find, because the “what” is everything, anything, something, nothing. In order to even know we’d found everything, we’d have to already have an everything to compare it to, which would mean we had already found it. It’s a paradox, and God must have a good laugh watching us run around in circles trying to comprehend it.
Our challenge must be the “how”. When we say: “The car is red.”, we are not telling “what” so much as we are telling “how”. We have two distinct objects in this sentence. The first is “car”. The second is “red”. They are related to eachother some HOW. So, let’s look at how “The car is red.” describes that relationship.
“the” is the first word of the sentence. It relates the idea of cars to reality, actuality. “a car” would be a theoretical car of which there was no actual, real object that was expressing the idea. Simply “car” is the generic category to which different objects can be related. It is the idea of cars, without any sort of specificity, without any attributes or identity. “the car” means that there is singular, identifiable car with definite and determinable attributes to which we are referring. There is a distinct object in this universe that we are referring to, the car, and no other object is acceptable as a stand-in or substitute for the purposes of this sentence.
“car” helps us to get a better understanding of the object. We could just as easily say “the vehicle” or “the Toyota” or “the device”, etc. “car” is a perspective we might have, a way of looking at an object. “the car” then can be expanded to “There is a distinct object in this universe, which can be looked at as fitting into the category of objects whose use is to enable faster, less tiresome travel by people, typically over developed paths and roads and usually powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor and this sentence is addressing that specific object and no other object, no matter how similar.” The car.
Words are just symbols. Symbols are stand-ins for complicated things, as you can easily see. Grammar is how we arrange the symbols. We have a systematic way (not really) of symbolizing, of labeling . . . anything, everything, something, nothing. We do not have a systematic way of arranging those symbols, those labels. Hence, even two people speaking the exact same language might choose to “say” the same thing in very different ways, letalone two people speaking different languages, with different sets of experiences and values. But, it should be possible to invent a logical system for arranging the symbols. Let’s finish this sentence:
“is” is a declaration of the existence of a relation between two things. Literally, “the car” is not “redness”. “the car” is not “the red”. “the car” is not “a red”. Literally, “the car” is different from “red”, but we say: “The car is red.” Well, if “the car” really was “red”, then we’d just say “Red is red.” or something like “Red is the car.” would make a lot more sense. The word “is” is really just stating that there is some sort of sameness, some relation, some unification, but it doesn’t specify what the nature of that unity is.
“red” is what we call a “color”. Colors are a mystery. Attempts at understanding light and color have propelled science forward quite a lot. For the purposes of this sentence, the color, red, can be super-classified as a perception, an experience. Experience is a unique concept. It relates to people and objects and time and space, etc. in a way that illuminates the usage of the word “is”.
So, let’s draw “The car is red.” using a more graphical method, rather than just spitting out the concepts in a sequence, but still using words. (After all, we want to symbolize the more complicated picture above, not draw something equally complicated.)
It might not make sense at first, but the ideogram we have constructed is “The car is red.” You may have noticed that the aspect “car” was separated from the “object”, because, as was said before, it could just as easily be “the vehicle” or “the Toyota” or “the device”. Calling the object in question “car” is the same as calling it “red” or “physical”. A box was drawn around “object” to emphasize that it is physically manifested; it is localized, whereas “car”, “red” and “physical” are not localized.
“The car is red.” is a fairly general way of stating it. How would “The car can be described as red.” look? Let’s try.
In the second ideogram, “the car” is connected to “a description” that “can be” red (and by implication, “can be” not red).
Can you tell which of the phrasings this ideogram represents?
In the last picture, it is becoming apparent that the only object, the only “thing” in the sentence is . . . well, we can’t say what it is, except by relating it to “non-things”, like “car” and “red” and “physicality”. We said that there are only 3 words in the english language: object, action, relation. Well, in the sentences above, we can clearly see the object. “description” and “emission” would be the verbs, the “action”s (and we should rightly draw a triangle around them). An action verb does not appear in the very first phrasing, only a declaration of a relation between the object and the color red. There was no reference at all of “how” the car “is” red in the very first phrasing, “The car is red.”, so there was no need to illustrate it in our ideogram.
As our description became more detailed, there were more links in our ideogram, and I suspect we would find infinite links in our picture if we just kept looking closer and closer.