Calculating with Words: Perspectives from Philosophy of Media, Philosophy of Science, Linguistics and Cultural History


This essay pursues the title of the special issue In the Beginning was the Word - The Word as a Technical Artefact and asks if words can be (technical) artefacts. The following thesis will be defended: as long as words are spoken they are part of parole, of spoken language and cannot be an object. Words as some kind of res are signs, but signs as a class of objects cannot be subsumed under the class of artefacts at large. Words can only be treated as artefacts if they are elements of a formal system; to think of them as being somehow technical means requires to understand them without reference to language. Prima facie, this leads to a paradoxical conclusion: if they are words, uttered words, they are part of language; if words are technically produced material entities, artefacts, they are devoid of meaning and are, therefore, not words.