Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 15
Today I came across another text on the 'arbitrary' nature of the linguistic sign.
"Names lack any intrinsic proper significance; they achieve their denominative power by virtue of users agreeing on it (i.e., on their significance or meaning). Once such an agreement has been established and a customary meaning achieved, we refer to that as the name's 'proper significance'. When (a usage) differs from the agreed upon (meaning), we refer to that as an 'improper significance'.
"Names also lack any intrinsic (association with) real things; they achieve their power to denominate real things by virtue of users agreeing on that (i.e., on the associations). Once such an agreement has been established, and a customary (association with real things) has been achieved, we refer to that as '(a) name and reality pairing." (Wang Xianqian, Xunzi jijie, Taipei, Lantai, 1972; quoted on pp. 97-98 of the Cambridge History of Ancient China. The quote is in William G Boltz's essay: "Language and Writing".)
I think Confucius could well be questioned on the nature and mechanics of the user agreement, but even at this early stage in Chinese language development, it seems to be clear that belief in the arbitrary (i.e., extrinsic) nature of the sign and its relation to the signified considerably predates Plato.