“One of the best ways to see something that we have come to take too much for granted (like language) is to look at an example of it that makes it strange again. So consider Yu-Gi-Oh!, a popular-culture activity, but one whose use of language will seem strange to many.
Here are some facts about Yu-Gi-Oh!: Yu-Gi-Oh! is a card game that can be played face-to-face or in video games. There are also Yu-Gi-Oh! television shows, movies, and books (in all of which characters act out moves in the card game). There are thousands of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. Players choose a deck of 40 cards and “duel” each other. The moves in the game represent battles between the monsters on their cards. Each card has instructions about what moves can be made in the game when that card is used. Yu-Gi-Oh! is a form of Japanese “anime,” that is, animated (“cartoon”) characters and their stories shown in “mangas” (comic books), television shows, and movies. Japanese anime is now a worldwide phenomenon. If this all seems strange to you, that is all to the good.
Below I print part of the text on one card:
When this card is Normal Summoned, Flip Summoned, or Special Summoned successfully, select and activate 1 of the following effects: Select 1 equipped Equip Spell Card and destroy it. Select 1 equipped Equip Spell Card and equip it to this card.
What does this mean? Notice, first of all, that you, as a speaker of English, recognize each word in this text. But that does you very little good. You still do not really know what it means if you do not understand Yu-Gi-Oh!. So how would you find out what the text really means? Since we are all influenced a great deal by how school has taught us to think about language, we are liable to think that the answer to this question is this: Look up what the words mean in some sort of dictionary or guide. But this does not help anywhere as much as you might think. There are web sites where you can look up what the words and phrases on Yu-Gi-Oh! cards mean, and this is the sort of thing you see if you go to such web sites:
Equip Spell Cards are Spell Cards that usually change the ATK and/or DEF of a Monster Card on the field, and/or grant that Monster Card special abilitie(s). They are universally referred to as Equip Cards, since Equip Cards can either be Equip Spell Cards, or Trap Cards that are treated as Equip Cards after activation. When you activate an Equip Spell Card, you choose a face-up monster on the field to equip the card to, and that Equip Spell Card’s card’s effect applies to that monster until the card is destroyed or otherwise removed from the field. When the equipped monster is removed from the field or flipped face-down, all the Equip Spell Cards equipped to that monster are destroyed. A fair few Equip Spell Cards are representations of weapons or armour. (http://yugioh.wikia.com/wiki/Equip_Spell_Cards)
Does this really help? If you do not understand the card, you do not understand this much better. And think how much more of this I would have to give you to explicate the whole text on the Yu-Gi-Oh! card, short though it is. Why didn’t it help? Because, in general, if you do not understand some words, getting yet more of the same sorts of words does not help you know what the original words mean. In fact, it is hard to understand words just by getting definitions (other words) or other sorts of verbal explanations. Even if we understand a definition, it only tells us the range of meanings a word has, it does not really tell us how to use the word appropriately in real contexts of use.” (pp. 3-4)
Gee, J. P. (2011). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.