In groups discuss the following ‘If your language is confused, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond’ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch 1863-1944 ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language’ Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889-1951 ‘Who does not know another language does not know his own’ Goethe 1749-1832 ‘Language was given to man to disguise his thoughts’ Talleyrand 1754-1838 ‘Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel faster or longer’ Steven Pinker 1954- ‘Man is the animal that speaks. Understanding language is thus the key to understanding man’ Thomas Szasz 1920-
Introduction Language is relevant to the theory of knowledge because it is one of the main ways which we acquire knowledge about the world. By communicating with one another, we are able to break out of the small circle of our own experience and tap into the collective experience of the community.
Drawbacks Despite its importance language is not a perfect medium of communication One problem is that what one person means when they say something may not be what another person understands when they hear it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcnWjQSlzgc Also language is used to deliberately deceive people eg Propaganda. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jCUeUNbnQE
Types of Language How man types of language (forms of communication) can you think of? Watch the video clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RximyW3GmCU In your groups role play different uses of body language to communicate the following emotions. a) Surprise b) Fear c)Amusement d) Boredom e) Aggression f) Lonelinessg) Perplexed h) Satisfied Watch clip (no sound) From the mime can you what’s being said? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG2GIQRGjtc
What does the image communicate to you?
What does the image communicate to you?
What does the image communicate to you?
What does this image communicate to you?
What does this image communicate to you?
Language and Symbolism This activity is useful in raising distinctions between the strengths of body language and the strengths of language symbolism in communication. It can also help make distinctions between signs and symbols. It should lead to a discussion on the capacity of language to communicate what physical gestures cannot. Aims To examine the symbolic nature of language To investigate the use of language for abstraction through charades.
Discussion Questions What on the cards was easy to act out? Why? What was difficult? Why? Are there some things for which body gestures and expressions are more effective than words? Are there some things for which words are more effective in communication? What is a symbol? What is the relationship between a word and that to which it refers? Is body language natural or is it learned? How might body language vary across cultures? Body language across cultures – the use of eye contact, gestures for yes and no, for come here, for flirtation, aggression or insult. How might the accompanying body language affect the meaning of spoken words? What effect does the existence of our symbol system of language have on knowledge?
Links to other areas of TOK How does language compare with other symbolic forms of communication such as painting, dance, music and mathematics? Would it possible to place all these forms in a range or spectrum according to any of the following qualities: precise-evocative, rational-emotional, representational-abstract, specific-general. Is knowledge restricted to claims made in language? Can a look or gesture communicate knowledge? How does the anthropologist or other practitioner of the human sciences gain knowledge of an individual or culture? How might the context of body language be significant in methods of observation and interview?
Problem of meaning Since much of our knowledge comes to us in the form of language, we need to be clear about the meanings of words if we are to understand the information that is being communicated to us. Read the following passage called ‘The Montilliation of Traxoline’ and answer the questions.
The Montilliation of Traxoline by Judy Lanier ‘It is very important that you learn about traxoline. Traxoline is the new form of zionter. It is monstilled in Ceristanna. Ceristanniansgristeriate large amounts of fevon and then bracter it into quaseltraxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most lukizedsnezlaus in the future because of our zionterlescelidge.’ What is traxoline? Where is traxolinemontilled? How is traxolinequaselled? Why is it important to know about traxoline?
Key words and the problem of meaning If you don’t know what the key words in a passage mean you will not understand it. This raises the question of what it is to know the meaning of a word. Meaning is important in our search of knowledge because you must know what a sentence means before you can decide whether it is true or false. However, attempting to pin down the meaning of words is very difficult as words are often ambiguous and open to a variety of interpretations.
Theories of meaning Definition theory Denotation theory Image theory
1. Definition theory The most obvious way of trying to resolve confusions about what a word means is to consult a dictionary. 1. Define as precisely as you can Triangle b. Table c. Love 2. How would you try to explain to a blind person what the word ‘red’ means? What does this suggest about the limitation of definitions?
2. Denotation theory According to denotation theory what distinguishes a meaningful word from a meaningless one is that the former stands for something while the latter does not. Thus ‘France’ means something because it stands for the country in europe that is north of the Pyrenees and west of the Rhine, while ‘asaflaaah’ is meaningless because there is nothing in the world it corresponds to.
Image Theory According to the image theory, the meaning of a word is the mental image it stands for, and you know the meaning of a word when you have the appropriate concept in your mind. For example, you know what the word ‘freedom’ means when you associate it with the concept of freedom – being able to do what you like, not being imprisoned and so on. Language therefore, corresponds to appropriate mental activity.
Problematic Meaning Language in practice is very complicated 1. Vagueness - Many words like “fast” are vague. How fast is fast? 2.Ambiguity - What might a politician mean if he says; “I promise not to raise incentive damaging taxes.” 3. Secondary meaning or euphemisms - We sometimes use euphemisms to avoid unpleasant connotations eg. Passed away for Died 4. Metaphor - Miranda has got her head in the clouds John is a pillar of the community 5. Irony - Basically saying the opposite of what you mean Language is ambiguous. Vagueness, euphemisms, metaphor and irony are all different kinds of ambiguity. The implication is that there is an element of interpretation built in to all communication.
Labels and Stereotypes Human communication is problematic and we cannot simply take the meanings of words for granted. Also language affects the way we see and think about the world. Labels Stereotypes Value-Judgements
Labels Labels are good – They are efficient and economical. Eg ‘Sand’ enables us to talk about the what we stand on at the beach. Without sand each individual grain would have to be given a name. What predictions can be made from the following a) Dog b) Bread c) Teacher
Problem with labels You mislabel things Labeling involves classifying things There are many different ways of classifying things Using any system of classification, divide the following 8 objects into 2 groups each numbering 4 items. How many different ways of doing this can you come up with? a) Typewriter b) Cake c) Car d) Hen e) Horse f) Pencil g) Snake h)Paint
Problem with labeling Classifying things falls into 2 categories 1. Natural classes of things - Natural 2. Social constructs imposed on the world by us – Cultural We classify things using words and these words can passively describe reality or actively structure it. Some labels reflect the natural order ie cats, dogs, gold, silver. However, other labels especially those used to classify human beings might seem to be more cultural than natural.
Activity What are the main advantages and disadvantages of classifying people according to their nationality? What are the main advantages or disadvantages of classifying people according to their star sign? What other ways of classifying people are there?
Stereotypes The danger of with putting labels on people is that our labels can easily harden into stereotypes. Stereotypes arise when we make assumptions about a group of people purely on the basis of their membership to that group. This is particularly apparent in nationality. Since Fritz is German he must love beer, sausages and saurkraut, work hard and be very serious. Despite dangers of stereotyping, some generalisations contain an element of truth eg A pub in London will have a different atmosphere to a bar in Beijing.
What stereotypes, if any, do you think exist in your culture concerning the following groups? a) Americans b) Islamic fundamentalists c) Feminists d) Environmental activists e) Lawyers f) Estate agents What common stereotypes exist in your own culture? Some believers in astrology say that Leos and Cancers are incompatible – eg If you are a Leo, there is no point in dating a Cancer and vice versa. To what extent can this be seen as the astrological equivalent of racism?
In summary Be aware of the advantages/disadvantages of using words to label things Labels trap us into a particular way of looking at things It is practically impossible to capture the uniqueness and individuality of things in words How do you capture the taste of a strawberry or the colour of the sea verbally. Reality spills beyond any description we are able to give it.
Language and Value-Judgements Read the case of the ‘father and son’ p104 TOK N. Alchin Students to solve the puzzle What issues does this raise in relation to denotation theory? The language that we use may affect the way we think for example - What is the difference between 1. Freedom fighter/ terrorist 2. Fanatic / devout These terms are not objective and descriptive but subjective value judgements. Language is implicitly linked to values
Watch the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMStCHtUNeY Is it an opinion honestly stated or are we being fed opinion disguised as fact and are the politicians using language to deceive us?
Sexist Language Divide class into boys and girls and brainstorm the stereotypical characteristics of a woman/man. Students to consider Work Physique Alcohol Sexual behaviour
Language prescribes By looking at gender stereotypes it can be seen that language does more than describe our world – It prescribes it! The difference between a playboy and a slut lies less in the behaviour each exhibits but more in the attitude of the person doing the describing. A clear case of language prescribing the world not describing it – It says that women should not have many partners but men should be able to.
Watch the selection of TV adverts and try to identify any underlying values – critically analyse the following adverts
Language and thought What is the extent to which language affects the way in which we think about the world?
The Sapir – Whorf Hypothesis Language determines our experience of reality, and we can see and think only what our language allows us to see and think. Edward Sapir (1884-1941) gives us an example – How many words can you use to describe the following picture?
Inuit peoples of the Arctic They have hundreds of different words for snow Their sophisticated snow vocabulary helps them to make finely grained snow discriminations. Therefore they see and experience snow covered landscapes very differently to the rest of us.
Ben Whorf (1879-1941) Studied the Hopi Indians of North America He concluded the Hopi language contains no words, grammatical forms, constructions or expressions that refer to what we call time or to past, present and future. Whorf concluded therefore the Hopi have no concept of abstract time. The Sapir – Whorf hypothesis claims that language determines the way we think. This is called linguistic determinism.
The Island – 1st 20mins Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) is a resident of a seemingly utopian but contained facility in the mid-21st century. Like all of the inhabitants of this carefully controlled environment, Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to the “The Island”—reportedly the last uncontaminated spot on the planet. But Lincoln soon discovers that everything about his existence is a lie. He and all of the other inhabitants of the facility are actually human clones whose only purpose is to provide “spare parts” for their original human counterparts.
Testing the hypothesis 1. Critics argue the Inuit have so many words for snow as a response to the environment they live in. In other words their reality determines their language rather than vice- versa. There are not many words from snow in English because people in England do not live in snow very often. There is evidence that thought is possible without language. Psychologists have claimed babies and animals are able to think without language. Creative people such as Albert Einstein have claimed language plays a secondary role in their thinking. Einstein claimed to think in images rather than language- Daniel Tammet - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbASOcqc1Ss (start -4.50) – How does he describe his thinking experience? If language determines thought how do new words ever enter a language or indeed how did language arise in the first place
Weaker version of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Arguments against the SWH are very powerful More plausible is the weaker version of the SWH This states language influences rather than determines thought Complex thinking does seem to be closely connected to language While language may not determine thought it might be said to predispose it – Eg We tend to think along the lines of our linguistic categories
Language Conclusion Much of our knowledge comes to us in words and is relevant to our quest for knowledge Language is not simple or straight forward We need to know what a statement means before we can decide whether its true or false This is very difficult Some claim ‘if you cant say it, then you don’t know it’ Others claim ‘I know more than I can say’. Proponents of this view argue our knowledge of things spills beyond our ability to describe them. This takes us back to the slogan ‘the map is not the territory’ Interestingly, mystics in all the great religions have held the deepest truths cannot be expressed in language Lao Tzu observed ‘Those who speak, do not know. Those who know, do not speak’.
Emotion – Does the way you describe something affect how you feel about it? Religion – Does religious experience lie beyond language? History – Is it possible to describe historical events in an unbiased way? Linking Questions Language The Arts – Is art the language of the emotions? Ethics – Should offensive language be censored? Perception – How does language affect the way we see things?
Homework Read - Dialogue on Animal Language This text explores the question of whether or not any animals can be said to possess language.