LANGUAGE AS A WAY OF KNOWING. Is ENGLISH confusing? Does it impede knowledge?. The bandage was wound around the wound. The farm was used to produce produce . The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. We must polish the Polish furniture.
Is ENGLISH confusing? Does it impede knowledge? • The bandage was wound around the wound. • The farm was used to produce produce. • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. • We must polish the Polish furniture. • He could lead if he would get the lead out. • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. • At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum. • When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. • I did not object to the object. • The insurance was invalid for the invalid. • There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row. • They were too close to the door to close it. • The buck does funny things when the does are present. • A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
Some other examples of strange pronunciations come into the picture with: • if you have a rough cough, climbing can be tough when going through the bough on a tree! • There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England.
If we explore the paradoxes, we find that: • quicksand can work slowly • boxing rings are square • guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? • In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? • Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? • Have noses that run and feet that smell? • How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same • while a wise man and a wiseguy are opposites?
Consider how language can be misinterpreted and therefore knowledge is miscommunicated. • Cocktail lounge, Norway: Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar
At a Budapest zoo: PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty
Hotel, Acapulco: The Manager has Personally Passed All the Water Served Here
Car rental brochure, Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."
Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations: Guests are requested NOT to smoke or do other disgusting behaviors in bed.
Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: We take your bags and send them in all directions.
What do you think? • Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? • Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?
In a study, English speakers watched the video of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" (a wonderful phrase introduced into the English language by Justin Timberlake), accompanied by one of two written reports. The reports were identical except in the last sentence where one used the phrase "ripped the costume" while the other said "the costume ripped." Even though everyone watched the same video and witnessed the ripping with their own eyes, language mattered. People who read "ripped the costume" blamed Justin Timberlake more. • 'wardrobe malfunction'
In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of doing things. • English speakers tend to say things like "John broke the vase" even for accidents. • Speakers of Spanish or Japanese would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself." Such differences between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers understand events, construct notions of causality and who is responsible, what they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish others.
In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. • Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? • She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. • Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the person responsible for accidental events as well as English speakers. • Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. • But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or remember the agent as well.
Patterns in language offer a window on a culture's dispositions and priorities. • For example, English sentence structures focus on agents, and in our criminal-justice system, justice has been done when we've found the transgressor and punished him or her accordingly. • In other cultures, the language focuses on the victim. • So does the language shape cultural values, or does the influence go the other way, or both?
Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? • It turns out that it does.
Masculine and feminine language… • If one's personal opinion of an object can be shaped by the way in which language has represented it, it doesn't take a massive leap of faith to believe that it affects humans at a macro scale as well. • An example might be the visual representations of abstract concepts in art. For example, Death is most often represented as a male in German art but as a female in Russian art; these correlate with their lingual representations, where death is a masculine word in German and a feminine word in Russian.
‘'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we're not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak,' he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. 'Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?'’
The thinking here is clear: • if we don’t have words for a concept or thing, then we cannot conceive of a concept or thing. • It is one of the key knowledge issues inherent to language, and needs thinking about in some detail.
Language and areas of knowledge • How do the words we use to describe an idea affect our understanding of the world? For example, is “globalization” a synonym for “westernization”? What is the meaning of the term “anti-globalization”? Does it matter which words we use? • How does the language used to describe the past (for example, a massacre, an incident, a revolt) change history? Does something similar occur when different terms are used to describe natural phenomena (greenhouse effect, global warming, sustainable development) or human behaviour (refugee, asylum seeker)?
How important are technical terms in different areas of knowledge? • Is their correct use a necessary or sufficient indicator of understanding? The following illustrative examples relate to the Diploma Programme subject groups. • Group 1: metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, synecdoche, genre, sonnet, haiku • Group 2: preposition, active/passive, pluperfect, genitive, creole, dialect • Group 3: cost–benefit analysis, price elasticity, evapotranspiration, neo-fascism, push–pull technology, ontology, cognitive dissonance, enculturation • Group 4: symbiosis, allotrope, ergonomics, trophic level, entropy • Group 5: irrational number, asymptote, dot product, isomorphism, minimum spanning tree • Group 6: dynamic content, L cut, sonata, dramaturgy, trompe l’œil
Homework • To what degree might two areas of knowledge use language to construct a way of viewing the world?