In the beginning was the word
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'In the beginning was the Word...'. Language and TOK. Tyranny of language. One of the most powerful aspects of language is the way it is used to make simple classifications: animals'; `courage'; `blue'

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Tyranny of language
Tyranny of language

  • One of the most powerful aspects of language is the way it is used to make simple classifications: animals'; `courage'; `blue'

  • One of the most dangerous aspects of language is the way it is used to make simplistic classifications: `Third World'; `fascist'; `terrorist';


  • “I know more than I can say”

    • Michael Polanyi

  • “If thought can corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought”

    • George Orwell

  • “How often misused words generate misleading thoughts”

    • Herbert Spencer

  • “If you can’t say it you can’t know it”

    • Hans Reichenbach


  • Language is not only the vehicle of thought, it is a great and efficient instrument in thinking

    • Humphrey Davy

  • The limits of my language stand for the limits of my world.

    • Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    • William Shakespeare

What do we use language for
What do we use language for?

  • To express emotion;

  • To drown out silence;

  • To establish a sense of belonging;

  • To establish relationships;

  • To enjoy the sound of language;

  • To affect other’s emotions;

  • To affect other’s behaviour;

  • To convey information;

  • To lie, to cheat, to confuse!

Language and values
Language and Values

  • What is the difference between a devout believer and a fanatic?

  • What is the difference between a black person, a person of colour, a coloured, a non white and a nigger?

  • What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?


  • Consider the following:

    • I am firm; you are stubborn; he is a pigheaded fool.

    • I am sparkling and witty; you are talking a lot; he is jabbering on.

    • I daydream; you are an escapist; he is totally delusional.

  • 'Conjugate' the following in the same way:

    • I am ambitious...

    • I have a sense of humour...

    • I love my country...

    • I am generous….

    • I am mature…..

We have...

army, navy and air force reporting guidelines press briefings


suppress neutralise dig in

We launch...

first strikes pre-emptively

Our soldiers are...

boys lads cautious confident

young knights of the skies loyal

desert rats resolute brave

Our missiles are...

like Luke Skywalker zapping Darth Vader

causing collateral damage

George Bush is...

at peace with himself


statesmanlike assured

Our planes...

suffer from a high rate of attrition.

Fail to return from missions

They have...

a war machine censorship propaganda


destroy kill


They launch...

sneak missile attacks without provocation

Their soldiers are...

troops hordes cowardly desperate

bastards of Baghdad ;blindly obedient mad dogs ruthless


Their missiles are...

ageing duds (rhymes with scuds)

killing innocent civilians

Saddam Hussein is...

demented defiant

an evil tyrant

a crackpot monster

Their planes...

are shot out of the sky

are zapped

Mad Dogs and EnglishmenThese are all expressions used by the British press while covering the Gulf War

Language and thought
Language and Thought

  • Can we think without language?

  • How does an English person and a Thai person think about eg “family”

  • Why do some of my Thai students continually switch between Thai and English in conversations?

  • French is the language of love…….

  • I use English to talk to my dog.

Language and thought1
Language and Thought

  • “Speech is the representation of the experiences of the mind.” ARISTOTLE

  • “Man lives with the world about him, principally, indeed exclusively, as language presents it.” WILHELM VON HUMBELDT

  • “We see and think as we do, mostly because of our language community.” BENJAMIN WHORF

Literal versus actual meaning
Literal versus actual meaning

  • It is important to know what the words actually mean rather than what the dictionary says it means.

  • Think of two phrases in which the same word conveys completely different, even contradictory meanings

Linguistic determinism
Linguistic Determinism

  • The languages we use determine what we can think.

  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that our thoughts are completely limited by our language.

  • If your first language is not English though you are completely bilingual, what language do you think in?

  • How did George Orwell use this idea in “1984” ?

Technical language
Technical language

  • Can a doctor actually be competent before he learns the words associated with his profession?

  • Could a mathematician solve complex problems without employing the symbolic language of algebra?

  • Can two computer experts converse without “techie-speak”?

Language and thought2
Language and thought….

  • Our mental world is far richer than our vocabulary.

  • Can you think of any feelings or thoughts for which there aren’t any words in your first language

  • If you are multilingual are there any words in one of your languages which do not exist in your other language?

  • Identify some mental concepts for which there should be words. Why is this difficult to do? What implications does this have for the relationship between language and thought?

The meaning of liff douglas adams
The meaning of Liff – Douglas Adams

  • CORRIEARKLET (n) The moment at which two people approaching from opposite ends of a long passageway, recognise each other and immediately pretend they haven't. This is to avoid the ghastly embarrassment of having to continue recognising each other the whole length of the corridor.

  • ELBONICS (n) The actions of two people manoeuvring for an armrest in a cinema.

  • ELECELLERATION (n) The mistaken notion that the more often, or the harder, you press an elevator button, the faster it will arrive.

More meanings of liff
More meanings of liff….

  • OUGHTERBY (n) Someone you don't want to invite to a party but whom you know you have to as a matter of duty.

  • SCONSER (n) A person who looks around when talking to you, to see if there's anyone more interesting about.

  • SCAPTOFT (n) The absurd flap of hair a vain and balding man grows long above one ear to comb it to the other ear.

  • SHOEBURYNESS (n) The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else's bottom.

Unnamed thoughts
Unnamed thoughts

  • Again, all these words are probably naming things with which you are already familiar, but which are unnamed. It can be interesting to discuss these ideas with speakers of other languages and to find concepts which have no direct translation


  • So, to what extent does thought rely on language?

  • Linguistic Determinism: the view that our thought, and therefore our knowledge, is determined and limited by our language.

  • Linguistic Realism: the view that our language isdetermined by our needs and by the world we experience around us.

Fallacy of ambiguity
Fallacy of Ambiguity

  • A In the following sentences, analyse the different ways in which the bold words are used.

    • Speeding is against the law.

    • Things fall according to the law of gravity.

    • It's an unwritten law that to get big business deals you need to bribe officials.

    • If you persistently speed, the law of averages says that sooner or, later you'll be caught.

    • The laws of grammar dictate that you should not split infinitives.

    • It is the truth that a triangle has three sides.

    • 'There is ice at the North Pole' is the truth.

    • There is real truth in that painting.

    • 'Ain't that the truth!'

Sentence structure
Sentence Structure

  • Each of the following sentences asserts that certain material objects possess certain qualities. In which cases are the qualities properties of the mind, and in which cases are they properties of the objects?

    • The drink is sweet. Here is a hard chair.

    • This curry is hot He is intelligent

    • This knife is sharp. He is as sharp as a knife.

    • It is a hot day. She is so sweet.

    • We are in love. The drink is fizzy.

    • That is an excellent film This is a hard exam.

  • If you found any of the qualities to be in the mind, explain the meanings of the sentences.

Renaming the problem
Renaming the problem…..

  • A identify the problem with the following explanations:

    • The bird found its way home by its homing instinct.

    • He seems nervous; perhaps he has lost his confidence.

    • Everyone listens to her - she has real presence.

    • She seems so relaxed, as if she has found a new serenity.

    • He fell to the ground, senseless. He must have lost consciousness.

    • It fell because of gravity.

    • He did well on the test because he has such a high IQ.

Language and meaning
Language and Meaning

  • 'Bite the wax tadpole.'

    • ('Coca-Cola' as originally translated into Chinese.)

  • 'Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.'

    • ('Pepsi Comes Alive' as originally translated into Chinese.)

  • 'You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.'

    • (In a Japanese hotel.)

  • 'Drop your trousers here for best results.'

    • (In a Bangkok dry cleaner's.)

Language and meaning 2
Language and Meaning (2)

  • 'I am amazingly diverted by your entreaty for a room. I can offer you a commodious chamber with balcony imminent to the romantic gorge, and I hope that you want to drop in. A vivacious stream washes my doorsteps, so do not concern yourself that I am not too good in bath, I am superb in bed.'

    • From a response to an inquiry about accommodation.

  • Press the button of your desire

    • Instruction in a Bangkok lift

  • We shall be coming on Tuesday to pester your room

    • Pest control at Bangkok Garden Apartments

  • All bicycles that are not removed from the car park will be exterminated

    • Instruction to tenants at Bangkok Garden Apartments

Language and meaning 3
Language and Meaning (3)

  • It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner, if dressed as a man

    • Sign at a Bangkok Temple

  • Would you like to ride on your own ass?

    • Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand

Got a flat tyre
Got a flat Tyre?

  • Its pouring with rain and you are changing a flat tyre when you hear a stranger say: “Got a flat Tyre?”

  • What is the psychological meaning here?

  • Hello. I can see that you have a flat tyre and that you are changing it. It is not good weather to be doing a job like that - I wouldn't want to be doing it by myself! And so perhaps, even though I do not know you, I can help. But I don't really know you well enough just to offer - and I do not wish to be embarrassed by a rejection. Are you approachable and friendly? This is my voice - you can see I am trustworthy. How about you? Will you give me a sign as to whether or not you wish for help?

Colemanballs see handout for other gems
Colemanballs(see handout for other gems)

  • "And here's Moses Kiptanui - the 19 year old Kenyan, who turned 20 a few weeks ago" (David Coleman)

  • "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again" (Terry Venables)

  • "Newcastle, of course, unbeaten in their last five wins." (Brian Clough)

  • Chile have three options - they could win or they could lose" (Brian Clough)

  • "That would have been a goal if the goalkeeper hadn't saved it" (Brian Clough)

  • "I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father" (Greg Norman)

You need to
You need to……………

  • appreciate that language is an incredibly rich and complex thing, and that it can be non-spoken

  • appreciate the distinction between language as a neutral, transparent tool for communication and language as a value laden system of persuasion and implication

  • understand that language may not map perfectly to the “real world” and that this can mask a poor understanding of the “real world”

  • understand the arguments for and against the position that language can affect thought

  • be informed about some of the issues raised by the existence of several languages

  • begin to appreciate the subtleties and difficulties associated with the concept of meaning

  • begin to appreciate possible links between language, experience and identity.