Author Archives: Yajing Hu

Discrete Infinity of Language

The discrete infinity of language means unlimited productivity from the finite means as a major design feature of language (Irvine, 2014). Discreteness means that the boundary between linguistic symbols is clear. Since the linguistic symbols are discrete, the chain of linguistic symbols can be segmented part by part until the smallest linguistic symbols are assigned. For example, “You are hungry” can be divided into subject “you”, verb “are” and adjective “hungry”.

The order of the three linguistic symbols can be changed and the meaning of the new sentence will be totally different. If I change the order of the subject and verb, the new sentence will be “Are you hungry?” In this case, I am asking for a question instead of stating a fact. This is one significant difference between human beings and animals. The way that animals communicate with each other, such as the dance of bees and the sound of chimpanzees, etc. are continuous and can’t be syncopated. However, the linguistic symbols of human beings are discrete and they can be used repeatedly and repeatedly to combine with other linguistic symbols.

Consequently, they can express infinite thoughts with limited linguistic symbols.
Language is the essential mean of human communication and meaning-making and linguistic meaning emerges from a whole communication environment. Human beings can create and understand new context. Because of the discrete infinity of language, it’s necessary to combine the context to understand the meanings of language correctly. The same sentence in different environment or context can have significantly different meanings. For example, when “She is hot” is used in summer, it means the girl feels very hot about the weather. When “She is hot” is used in the beach, it may be a compliment to the girl’s appearance and stature. Consequently, not only the different combination of linguistic symbols can lead to infinite meanings, but also the different environment influences infinite meanings as well.

Although specific meanings are unlimited, they are bounded only by human-scale limits such as personal knowledge, time and memory (Irvine, 2014). This brings a new need for language, namely creativity. In the video presentation, Language and the human brain, Chomsky thinks that language is words, rules and interfaces. Among these, rules include syntax, morphology and phonology. One important quality is that rules focus on creativity, which means the ability to produce and understand new language. Rules allow for open-ended creativity, including the expression of unfamiliar meanings and the production of vast numbers of combination. That is consistent with the discrete infinity of language. Language has the potential and creativity to develop infinitely.

An extension of the discrete infinity of language is that ambiguous sentences imply different meanings from the same phase structure.

Journalists say that when a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news (Pinker, 1994).

That’s an interesting case of the discrete infinity of language. In fact, ambiguous sentences are not rare both in spoken language and written language. And that reflects the miraculous of language. Even the change of the combination of different words can lead to totally different meanings.

1. Irvine, M. (2014). Introduction to Linguistics and Symbolic Systems: Key Concepts.
2. Pinker, S. (2007). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Symbolic Material Culture as External Symbolic Storage: The Example of Ding

Symbol originated in practice by our ancestors. It’s process of unfolding is synchronized with the process of human culture. In the primitive society, people have already had both practical and aesthetic demand and taken part in creating conscious or unconscious symbols to enrich the life. The invention of external storage of information was the watershed event in modern human behavioral evolution (Wong, 2005).

Ding is a good case to study symbolic material culture as external symbolic storage. Ding, as a kind of material in ancient China, has many symbolic meanings embedded in it. Ding originated in the Neolithic Age in China, but at that time, it was made of pottery. In the Bronze Age, it was made of bronze. After the development in two dynasties, the Ding reached its peak in the Zhou Dynasty. The Ding was mainly used as a food container. Then it became the carrier of language and words. Then it entailed the privilege to perform the associated rituals and became the symbols of authority (Thomas, 1982). Ding in the Zhou Dynasty was a symbol of their rule over the whole nation and different number of the Ding they used represents different social class.

  1. Ding as the food container

Food container as a kind of tool, it can embody the unique characteristic that differs human from other animals. In the article, Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain, Donald put forward a point of view that mimesis involved a revolution in motor skills and a higher level of processing in the nervous system, which leads to rich variability that served as the basic for inventing (Donald,2007). In the development of food container, from wood to pottery, human beings incessantly accumulated experience to improve the usage of food container based on the memory of consequences of the previous action. This reflects the extended cognitive sequence and the wisdom as human beings.

  1. Ding as the carrier of language

The earliest language in China was the Oracle, which was written on tortoise shells or bones. However, Oracle disappeared with the wreck of the Shang Dynasty. Instead, inscriptions on bronze gradually became the main language in the Zhou Dynasty and the vocabulary was more abundant than Oracle. They were mainly used to celebrate the achievements of the emperors and record social life at that time. In the article, Mind and Matter Cognitive: Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage, Ding, which is made of bronze, plays the role like major monuments in prehistoric Britain, is built for remembrance and often memorial. Both play the role of a memorial to serve, especially the collective memory (Renfrew, 1999).

Compared to language which were inscribed on tortoise shells and bones, those which were inscribed on bronze were more likely to store and spread. This can represent the development of social science and technology. One significant difference between the two carriers of language is that bronze was not natural. It was a kind of artefacts and technology. Developing concepts and language which can be understood and analyzed often embodied in the structure and artefacts.

  1. Ding as the symbol of authority

Early inventions were pragmatic and generally not far removed from nature (Renfrew, 1999). Similarly, the invention and usage of Ding symbolized kinds of the social environment. In the Zhou Dynasty, Ding and the privilege to perform the associated rituals became symbols of authority. The number of the permitted Ding varied according to their rank in nobility. Only the kings could use Nine Dings and this was a symbol of their rule over the whole nation. Theoretic thought is to be associated with literacy, and hence with urban civilization in a state’s society. Ding, as a symbol of authority, represents not only the social class, but also the values and civilization in the Shang Dynasty.



1.Donald, M. (2007). Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain. O. Vilarroya, & FF i Argimon.

2.Lawton, T. (1982). Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity 480-222 B.C. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 23.

3.Renfrew, C. (1998). Mind and matter: cognitive archaeology and external symbolic storage. Cognition and material culture: the archaeology of symbolic storage, 1-6.

4.WONG, K. (2005). The Morning of the Modern Mind. Scientific American, 292(6), 86-95. Retrieved from


The Influence of Medium to Social Class

I am quite interested in how medium influences social class after surveying this week’s reading. In the early human origins, namely ancient times, both productivity and tools were in the low level, systematic words had not been invented. However, people living in small societies needed to use gestures and facial expressions to express their opinions. In ancient times, gathering and hunting were the main ways of productivity, and there wasn’t significantly class consciousness in Matriarchal society. The medium was not proficient as well, and it lacked normalized and systematic channel of communication. The goal of communication and medium was not about improving the development of culture, but for the need for survival.

The existence of language improved the development of medium and human communication was more subjective. With language, it’s more convenient for people to memorize, transmit, receive and understand information. The storage of information depended on memory of people in different societies. As Joshua Meyrowitz wrote:

       “In oral societies, the presentation of ideas and mores depends upon the living memory of people. A great deal of time and mental energy, therefore, must be spent in memorization and recitation. This form of “living library” ties people closely to those who live around them.”

The society is small because communication in oral societies was limited by geography. Also, people’s memory was limited. Both restricted the range and ability of communication.

The invention of words and printing marks the new communication era. However, in the early time, the carrier of words was too heavy and it’s difficult for communication. The invention of paper improved the efficiency of words communication and they made memory available to be stored for a long time. At that time, social class became distinct. As Meyrowitz wrote: “Writing and reading are not “natural” means of communication. They require much learning and rote practice, and they have full effect only when they are learned at a very young age.” However, book still integrated into people’s daily life and became the main tool for news and communication. Although the effect of this medium is limited to the minority of the society.

Printing also stood out as one of the notable landmarks in the development of medium and communication. Information and knowledge could be stored at the greatest extent and transmitted at the maximum speed. The more important meaning of printing is accelerating the speed of global communication and breaking the limitation of space. Printing provided copies for words and these copies could be transmitted to any other places in the world. People in different places of the world could be connected to each other and resonance by words. This led to the global communication of the culture. Papermaking technology and printing accelerated the Renaissance. Papermaking technology made the ancient Greek source materials be better stored while printing made these materials transmitted to civilian population and made the culture of ancient Greek popular in Europe. Furthermore, it promoted the reform of social structure and made ideological and cultural preparation for the bourgeois revolution.

Then electronic technology became the main medium. The generation of recorder and camera stored human’s auditory and visual function and broke through the limitation of time and space. The generation of radio and television pushed human communication to enter the stage of three-dimensional propagation. During this period, people could receive information with sense of auditory and vision. 3-D communication made people more convenient to receive news information and became the most important tool for human beings to contact the society, entertainment, etc. Electronic medium further broke the limitation of space and location and promoted the globalization. Especially during the second Industrial Revolution, the formation of the world market depended on the global information transmission network. Electronic medium also further promoted both the reform of the society and the second Industrial Revolution. The society had turning into two big classes, namely the industrial bourgeoisie and the industrial proletariat.

Then it comes to the era of mass communication with modern science and technology, using digital network as medium. Before, people received information passively. Now, with the computer and digital network, everyone has recording and publishing information tools. This makes it possible for anyone to send pictures, sounds and text messages from the scene to the world at the first time in the event of a news event. The current mobile phone message and Internet communication are the embodiment of the natural equality of primitive state in the primitive society, which is both the propagator and the receiver. This kind of communication is popular with the public due to its rapid dissemination of information and freedom and equality of information release. The emergence of blog and BBS messages and online commentaries meet the desire of the public to pursue equal communication between news and information. The public can participate in the collection, dissemination and reception of news information. It has become a symbol of social equality. This is the distinctive feature of this era, which is different from all the previous times, which means the social class is more equal.


1.McQuail, D. (1983). Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction.

2.Meyrowitz, J. (1994). Media Theory.