Language and Reality

The relationship between language and reality can be expressed by the phrase "direction of fit". There are 2 directions of fit. The first direction is more intuitive to grasp—language can reflect reality. This is has been called the word-to-world direction of fit meaning that the words match the world. For example, when we say, "there is a cat on the mat," or, "Socrates is bald," we are using words to match a certain state of affairs in the world. This use of language creates propositions which can be true if they correspond to reality or false if they do not correspond to reality.

The second direction of fit is more interesting. And that is when we use language to change reality. This has been called the world-to-word direction of fit because the world is made to match the words. For example, when I am in a meeting and say, this meeting is adjourned, I am making it the fact that meeting is really adjourned in reality by representing the meeting as being so adjourned. Similarly, when an authorized religious official says, "I now pronounce you husband and wife," he is changing reality by representing reality as being so changed.

It is important to keep in mind the distinction between observer-independent facts and observer-dependent facts. When I say that language can change reality, I do not mean that words can change the observer-independent facts of reality. Words can only change reality insofar as they relates to observer-dependent facts such as cocktail parties and marriage.

In my next post I will introduce the categories of different uses of language and give many different examples.