‘’The vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge: it shapes what we can know’’ Evaluate this claim with references to different areas of knowledge.
The common individual is probably unaware of the incomparable importance of the medium of language in human society. We have not only been able to evolve physically as a species, but upon the stronghold of human communication with the universe through all senses (through touch, sight, smell, sound waves and taste) we have also been able to create a governing body over the abstract universe, therefore being able to construct and produce through realization and conveyance of realities onto other humans which we experience as teaching and learning. Undoubtedly the concept of some kind of communication between members of any species known to man is a common feature of terrestrial life, but mankind has managed to increase the pace of its (mental/abstract) evolution through documentation of events and teaching these to its offspring like no other species on planet Earth.
Language is a filter of perceived information (through sense perception) and can therefore alter the raw material or input, which is the received reality into something that is more compatible to the conventions of human language, specifically the human language used as a medium by the individual, whose level of fluency in the language and the range of vocabulary available to that person determine the quality of the output or product of expression. One person could mean one thing, construct one thing, express one thing and another person could receive another thing, think another thing and so mean another thing, thus creating an inconvenient misconception of the first individual’s perception of reality and a loss of information through the process of communication, much like raw materials can be altered and abraded of their original physical attributes during the process of producing a new product.
In my perspective and interpretation of the universe, using the TOK ways of knowing, I have determined and deduced that the reality we perceive, through sense perception, or the gateways between one point to another is governed by our language which is our link to other members of our species.
Let’s categorize the universe into two related points: the observed point and the observant point. The observed point is a situation and representation of the universe, which conveys an infinite amount of possible physical and abstract representations of that point. The observant point, observes the observed point through a set, determined window of possibilities equally infinite and arbitrary (relatively) since the observed point could make from these perceived representations of reality any possible interpretation. But since the human brain is only able to interpret these realities as a single situation, from one single point in time to another, and will therefore base the interpretation on their current emotional state (emotion), reasoning of past realities in a similar situation (reason) they will eventually express this through the medium of appointing human thought; language. This information observed will therefore be expressed in one single way through human communication and interpreted in another way, for no set of two individuals is ever in the same state of emotion and reasoning and therefore will never express the same thing, even though it is most convenient to believe that human language is in fact a gateway of communication and highly reliable but even if language doesn’t physically/literally telepathically transmit senses and states of perception/being, it is still the most constructive way of human interaction and therefore it must be cherished and appreciated, which brings us to the art of written language:
As I am writing this essay, I am using a medium of communication that can be called many things. People will call it English, contemporary English, a West-Germanic interpretation of the universe. So correctly, it would have to be called ‘’a medium of interpretation of the universe attributed by an essentially and traditionally West-Germanic inclination of grammar and vocabulary though having passed through numerous ‘’foreign’’ interpretations of the universe as closely related as the North-Germanic way of thinking to that of the Norman French cultural melting pot of Celts, Romans, Frankish Germanic tribes and a process of multiculturalism, isolated upon the British isles as early as 700 A.D., going through cultural definition through the minds and hands of monastery scribes, playwrights, poets, criminals, courthouses, farmers, common folk of any kind and nobility as well as obtaining political identity through the establishment of kingdoms and invasions from afar, receiving bursts of aggression from torture and devaluation until it emerged from its wounds, determined and fearless as it lead the vast, as of yet unrivalled spread of the British Empire across a slim quarter of the entire speaking, spoken world from the 15th to the 20th century of the Gregorian calendar, leaving its legacy in languages evolved from slave trades and social oppression, branding and marking its way through the tongues and minds of countless speaking humans, forcefully replenishing itself through American globalism and the soil which once stood and still stands as the blossoming current of the English Language, expressed not only differently from community to community but from ear to ear and mouth to mouth linked by only one thing; the documentation of a language revealing itself around any corner, in any alleyway, store, street, city or satellite at any point in time to any individual bestowed with eyes from Cortney, Canada to Arhangay Aymag, Mongolia as a concrete representation of a spoken language, as a medium of communication and documentation of the realities perceived and received from the universe in all its points, faces and legends.’’
Written language is therefore the direct tangible, physical representation of the abstract concept of language. ‘’Direct’’ implying that anything that can be expressed through spoken and written language is an ‘’indirect’’ tangible, physical representation of the concept of language. Any documentation of any universal event, can be recorded for many a human life through scripture. Although as with any form of language or other universal concept, the interpreted and interpreter are both ever changing in the flow of time. Let’s take as an example from
Different languages express things in different ways, be it the contrast between spoken and written language (the latter often being more archaic and formal in characteristics) or the contrast between two separate manifestations of human language. Any language is equally complex and can therefore express the same situation equally validly but the degree of description and nuance in a language can change the quality of the described situation. Some languages for example categorize different physical attributions of objects within their grammar and syntax (i.e. Athabascan languages, Bantu languages) whilst lacking biological gender distinction as found in Indo-European languages (like English). So the degree of description in any language or variety of that language expresses the universe differently. A good example of these different realities actually expressed as opposed to the relatively similar reality perceived, is the spectrum of colours in different languages. As an example one could take the means of describing colours in the human visual spectrum in the Navajo language of Arizona, USA. Most literally seen, the Navajo language incorporates a much smaller spectrum of colours than the English language (referring here to the primary colours). In English for example there is a clear distinction between the colours blue and green and are so also sensed by the speaker as two different concepts. In Navajo, however, the ‘’colour-continuum’’ between blue and green is much weaker in the language as both these terms are collectively expressed by the term ‘’Dootł’izh’’ which therefore expresses a concept of a colour between the extremities of English blue and green. The difference between these two visual concepts is however perceived by speakers of the Navajo language and the terms blue and green are respectively expressed by a descriptive noun set in front of the term ‘’Dootł’izh’’: ‘’Ch’ilgo Dootł’izh’’ and ‘’Yágo Dootł’izh’’ where ‘’ch’il’’ is the Navajo word for plant and ‘’yá’’ is the Navajo word for sky. Thus describing a concept which in English is expressed through the smallest unit in a language which is a word, by the means of a head-marking concept of a certain visual value to modify the colour ’’Dootł’izh’’ into a concept of colour closer to the visual characteristics of a plant or the sky.
A language can therefore be a defining frame for the perceived universe as vocabulary relies upon the innovation and creativity of the individual speaking it, whilst said speaker is in turn being limited by the descriptive shortcomings of the language where he/she must then construct a new concept using existing conventions accepted by other speakers using the language as a form of communication. No one can claim that a language is unchanging as like with any ‘’living’’ entity it flows through the current of time through different minds and different situations, evolving and increasing its vocabulary as mankind learns and teaches like never before (literally), but the rigid, accepted rules of a language must be adhered to in order for it to be utilized as a productive form of communication, as to create a common understanding of concepts superficially universally understood as the same thing. Therefore vocabulary does shape what we can know, for if something cannot be expressed, It cannot be taught, cannot be learnt and so cannot be thought and therefore might as well not even exist.
Leon van de Craats, 28/02/2012
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