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The Roles Of Language In The Context Of Critical Thinking
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The Roles Of Language In The Context Of Critical Thinking

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  • 1. The Roles of Language in the Context of Critical Thinking Rocio De La Torre Speech 104 February 5, 2010
  • 2. What is the Importance of Language in Critical Thinking?
    • Language is fundamental to critical thinking because it determines the effectiveness of an argumentative process.
    • Unfortunately, improper word choice , excessive ambiguity , imprecise definitions , or language intensity that proves to be too inflammatory can all derail attempts by an ordinarily good communicator to effectively convey their ideas to their target audience.
    • Thus, the successful critical thinker must keep these four main aspects of language in mind when engaging in the analysis or formulation of arguments.
    • Therefore, I will discuss these four aspects of language and their relation to critical thinking.
    • Then, I will conclude with considerations of language that a critical thinker should keep in mind in order to improve their communication.
  • 3. Word Choice
    • The Whorf-Sapir hypothesis postulates that the words of a particular language aid in determining the manner in which people interpret events [1].
    • Unfortunately, with over 6,809 unique languages in the world [2], it is not unlikely that the meaning someone speaking one language is trying to convey to someone speaking another language is lost.
    • The best remedy for an effective critical thinker is to carefully think of the appropriate words to say and ensure they are suitable for the given time , place , occasion , and person (or audience ).
  • 4. Ambiguity
    • On occasion, the words communicated from one person to another can be misinterpreted by the receiver because of the multiple meanings of these words.
    • This confusion caused by multiple meanings of words is ambiguity.
    • To the receiver, ambiguity causes words to lose meaning and frustrates effective communication.
    • To the sender, ambiguity can lead them to stereotype broad groups of people, events, or things and can also permit them to intentionally mislead people.
    • These ills are best remedied by being more precise in word usage.
    • In the next two slides, a cautionary (and true) tale of the unintended consequences of ambiguity is presented.
  • 5. The Dangers of Ambiguity in Language
    • In July 1945, two months after the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II, the U.S.A., the U.K., and China issued the Potsdam Declaration calling for the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan.
    • Two days after its issuance, the Japanese cabinet was evenly split between accepting and rejecting the document.
    • In order to appease both sides, Prime Minister Suzuki told the press that the government held a policy of “mokusatsu” ( 黙殺 ) with respect to the Potsdam Declaration.
    Kantaro Suzuki (1868-1948) Prime Minister of Japan (1945)
  • 6. Extreme Consequences of Ambiguity
    • The word “mokusatsu” was an archaic Japanese word that did not translate well into other languages; inevitably most people (including Japanese citizens!) became confused by Prime Minister Suzuki’s announcement.
    • This confusion stemmed from the two characters in “mokusatsu”: “moku” ( 黙 ), which literally means “silence;” and “satsu” ( 殺 ), which literally means “kill.” Therefore, the two characters together roughly translate as “to kill with silence.”
    • Suzuki thought the pacifists would be satisfied because they would interpret this to mean “no comment” on the Declaration; he also thought militarists would be appeased because they would interpret this to mean “ignore” the Declaration.
    • Tragically, “mokusatsu” was broadcast to the world to mean “ignore” the Declaration, leading the Allies to decide on proceeding with testing the new products of the “Manhattan Project”.
    Nagasaki (circa 1 month prior to “mokusatsu” statement). Nagasaki (circa 1 month after to “mokusatsu” statement). It is possible Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have avoided the decimation above if it were not for Prime Minister’s Suzuki ambiguity calculated for political expedience.
  • 7. Definitions
    • Words employed by a speaker have two meanings to the audience: denotative and connotative meanings.
    • Denotative meanings refer to the manner in which a word is generally used by people.
    • If one is not clear about this, one can consult a text similar to the one on the right.
    • Connotative meanings refer to the emotional responses elicited from people upon hearing a particular word (e.g. snowball fights could bring back fond childhood memories for some and terror for others).
  • 8. Definitions (Continued)
    • When one has difficulty understanding a word, one could attempt to define it in a number of ways:
    • One manner is by findings the formal definition given in the dictionary.
    • Another is by using a definition by example , which demonstrates the proper usage of the word within appropriate context.
    • A third technique (and straightforward technique) is definition by negation , which defines the word by stating it what it is not .
  • 9. The Intensity of Language
    • Typically, language intensity refers to how words or phrases negatively affect the emotions of the participants during communication.
    • Negative evaluative words can indicate the entrenched ideology or opinions of a person and can effectively circumvent constructive arguments.
    • Strong emotive words describe a person’s attitude or beliefs toward what is being described.
    • Abusive language uses obscene and hurtful comments and remarks, typically to demean someone.
    • An effective critical thinker will try to minimize the intensity level in their communications.
  • 10. Final Considerations of Language a Critical Thinker Should Consider
    • In summary, a critical thinker should use proper words, avoid ambiguity, use precisely defined words, and minimize the intensity level of their communications.
    • Moreover, they should consider time, place, person, and occasion for their arguments.
    • Adhering to these principles will insure that the critical thinker can effectively dissect arguments and credibly present their ideas.
  • 11. References
    • Sterk, J. and J. Marteney. Communicating Critical Thinking. Speech 104. 2008.
    • Anderson, S.R. How Many Languages Are There in the World? Linguistic Society of America. 2005.