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Critical thinking and language


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  • 1.  How do you say “language”? Spanish : lengua Russian : язык Japanese : 言語 Greek : γλώσσα Dutch : taal Korean :언어 French : langue “Therefore it‟s name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:1-9)
  • 2. The English language contains roughly 500,000 usable words, and the 500most common words in the English language have a combined total ofmore than 14,000 different meanings. Thus, there is no guaranty that senderand receiver will be on this same semantic wave length.The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis maintains that the word of a particularlanguage help to determine the way that people interpret events that occur.To a Japanese the word “mokusatsu” may mean either “to ignore”, or “torefrain from comments.” Unfortunately the translation broadcast to theworld said that Japan had decided to “ignore” the Potsdam Declarationdemanding Japan surrenders. To the Allies, this meant a rejection of theterms for surrender and they decided to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.But for this tragic misuse of language, Japan might have been spared theatomic attackAccording to Whorf and Sapir our word choices allow us to indirectlyexpress our “real” feelings about the people, events and things in ourenvironment. Meaning is in the mind and not in the symbols (words).Thelanguage goal of the critical thinker is to select the appropriate words tomatch the time, place, occasion and person.
  • 3.  Euphemism is used to soften the impact of a word to make it more audience-acceptable. Compare: torture-enhanced interrogation technique Shooting at one‟s own troops-friendly fire abortion- termination of pregnancy fire someone: let somebody go unemployed-between jobs Euphemisms should be used sparingly and with extreme care, because they increase the ambiguity level in all areas of communication including argumentation.
  • 4. Doublespeak “makes the bad seem good, thenegative appear positive, the unpleasantappear attractive or at least tolerable. It is alanguage that conceals or prevents thought”according to William Lutz. Another kind of doublespeak is language which is clear and accurate but implies something which is false. Lutz identifies several kinds of doublespeak used to mislead, deceive listeners about ugly reality or embarrassing situation, or to give an air of prestige, profundity or authority to one‟s speech. It is a tricky problem to find the particular calibration in timing that would be appropriate to stem the acceleration in risk premiums created by falling incomes without prematurely aborting the decline in the inflation- generated risk premiums (Alan Greenspan).
  • 5. The use of more ambiguous language by an arguer can create three distinctproblems for the critical thinker.•Confusion. Advertisers use phrases like “New and Improved,”or “FasterActing “ to purposely create ambiguity in their audience. This allowsindividuals to independently interpret such phrases as the needs of thedifferent audiences warrant.•Over-generalizing and stereotyping.Thinking in ambiguous terms tend to lead to categorizinglarge group of people, events, and things under one label.The greater the ambiguity, the more likely one is to ignoreindividual differences and classify all members of thegroup as being this same.• Bypassing.“I don‟t know why I got sick, I only had „a little‟ to drink.” Bypassing occurs when people unintentionally use the same word to mean different things or use different words to represent the same thing.
  • 6. The denotative meaning of a word refers tothe way a word is generally used or the meaning thatpeople most frequently attach to a word. When a wordhas multiple meanings, definition one in the dictionary isusually thought of as the denotative meaning of theword.New definitions are added to existing words to reflect current usageand expression. The connotative meaning of a word refers to the way a person emotionally responds to it. The word “ mother “has a common denotative meaning to most people, but each person may react differently to the word. For some, “mother” conjures up thoughts of kindness and love. For others evokes thoughts of depression, fear and hate.
  • 7. The primary function of definition is to get sender and receiver on same semantic wavelength in order to avoid unnecessary semantic hurdles.•Dictionary definition.. The most common form for clarifying what wordmeans.•Operational definition. Most useful to define word by its function or operation.•Definition by example. The method is the attempt to define word or phrase byciting specific instances of that word or phrase. For example, the Infiniti 135, andToyota Camry are “good cars.”•Definition by negation. This form of definition tells us what a word or phrase isnot . A “good husband” is not one who cheats on his wife.•Definition by etymology. This is defining a word or phrase by citing itshistorical roots or point of origination (what is the word or phrase‟s Latin or Greek origin).•Special definitions. Our everyday conversations may contain an in-• formal quality that comes from our use of slang and colloquialisms.
  • 8. Negative evaluation words are words that can onlybe understood through comparison with their opposite(ugly, fat, weird, stupid). They can also be used toindicate the force or strength of another word (always,never, absolutely).Strong emotive words are words which are used todescribe something, but really presents the person attitudetowards what is being described. The goal is to get anemotional response from whomever the language is directedtowards. Being cautious is called being coward, or beingeccentric is being crazy.Abusive language is the use of obscenity, namecalling, insults, swear words, , and of-color remarks which areusually of a racial or sexual nature. Abusive languagegenerally leads to a defensive communication environmentand produces very little chance for constructive conflictresolution.
  • 9. Language and persuasion are related in four ways.•Language is related to audience attention and comprehension. Kenneth Anderson says, In the attention process, language should beused to select and direct attention toward desired elements. Criticalthinkers need to keep two questions in mind:What language will your audience accept, and What language will theyreject?”Language is related to audience acceptance and rejection of anargument. “To the degree that the attention and comprehension of anaudience contribute to an argument acceptance, language thatmaximizes these processes increases the potential for acceptance.Language affects arguer credibility. Word choice and selection,along with usage, is viewed by the audience as a function of class andeducation. Language determines how people interpret their environment.“ Language is a guide to „social reality.‟ Language powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes.”
  • 10. •Jack Sterk, Jim Marteney:: Communicating critical thinking•”•Doublespeak website.•Lutz, William. The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows WhatAnyones Saying Anymore. New York: Harper, 1996.•Yahoo! Babel fish website