How do the arbitary nature of language and the naming of objects or experiences lead to misunderstanding?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Language is arbitrary.  For the most part, there is no necessary connection between the sound of a word and the thing that it represents.  That means that any given word could, conceivably, represent any given object or idea.  Because there is no clear connection between a word and an idea or object, the meanings of words can change over time.  People can also understand the same word in different ways at the same time.  This can lead to misunderstandings in a number of circumstances.

For example, let us look at the word “attitude.”  This word once meant (and still does to some people) a person’s general outlook with regard to life or to a specific circumstance.  You could say “I like your attitude” and that would mean that you approved of the way the person approached a given situation.  Today, “attitude” has generally come to mean (particularly among younger people) a more negative or “in your face” outlook.  One person could say to another “I like your attitude.”  The speaker would think they were complimenting the other person but the listener might feel that they were being criticized for having “attitude.” 

In this way, the symbolic and arbitrary nature of language can lead to misunderstandings.