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Language and Critical Thinking By Katherine Driscoll
Language and Critical Thinking The critical thinker meets the needs and expectations of the audience. The language should be appropriate to the time, place, person and occasion.
Four Areas of Language Word choice Ambiguity Definition Intensity
Word Choice Words chosen must resonate with the audience. Remember: Not everyone uses language in the same way! Whorf-Saphir hypothesis: Language shapes how one interprets an event. Language is a filter that shapes how you think.
Ambiguity The goal is to have the target audience understand the message. Specificity is valued over ambiguous word choice. Ambiguity may result in misunderstanding.
Ambiguity Euphemisms – alternative words that “soften” the impact of offensive words May lead to misunderstanding Jargon – words known only to a select crowd May exclude some members of the audience Doublespeak – language that conceals or prevents what you truly mean Ex/ misleading statements, sarcasm
Ambiguity Problems caused by ambiguity: Confused audience – can be genuine or intentional (ex/ when advertisers trick you with word choice) Over-generalization and stereotyping Bypassing – using the same word to mean different things, or using different words to mean the same thing
Definition Denotative vs. Connotative Meaning: Denotative – the most commonly understood meaning of a word Ex/ “mother” is the woman who gives birth/raises a child Connotative – a person’s emotional response Ex/ “mother” may suggest thoughts of kindness, trust, love OR Ex/ “mother” may suggest thoughts of depression, fear, hate
Definition Types of Definitions: Dictionary Definition Operational Definition Ex/ A “good car” is reliable and gets good MPG. Definition by Example Ex/ A “good car” is a Honda or a Toyota.
Definition Types of Definitions: Definition by Negation Ex/ A “good car” is not one that breaks down. Definition by Etymology - defining a word by its historical roots Specific Definition - useful for idioms or slang terms
Intensity of Language Avoid using the following types of words: Negative Evaluative Words Ex/ ugly, fat, weird, stupid, strange, etc. Strong Emotive Words - words that clearly show a speaker’s bias Abusive Language - name calling, obscenity, insults, swear words, etc.
Impact of Language on Critical Thinking What type of language will your audience understand? What words will help or hurt you in making your point? What type of language will increase your credibility as a speaker? What language symbols are most appropriate for decoding your message?