2.6 Symbolism and Language

Those who study human language often focus on two of its more remarkable features: symbolism and generativity. Symbolism in language means that words “stand for” or “refer to” something else. The word fox, for example, is said to “refer to” or “stand for” a particular type of really cool animal. Words can symbolize just about anything. Objects, events, people, places, and ideas can all be represented by words. Words can even simply refer to other words! It is often said that when you understand what a word is referring to, then you understand the word’s meaning.

A red fox walking through the snow, symbolizing RFT0206.
Words “refer” to other things

What a word “refers” to is often its meaning
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