Thebastidge: Semi-Random Thoughts on Language
  • Cascade Policy Inst.
  • Evergreen Freedom Foundation
  • Free State Project
  • Seastead Institute
  • Open Carry.Org
  • No Nonsense
  • TDA Training
  • Believe it
  • -->

    ********************Southwest Washington Surplus, your prepping supply store********************

    Thursday, January 04, 2007

    Semi-Random Thoughts on Language

    I'm a big believer in the importance of education. Not merely formal education with the attendant credentialing being an economic signal, but in all forms of 'standing upon the shoulders of giants' that is enabled by the human ability to store and transmit knowledge.

    And, I like to talk.

    As a person who has largely educated himself (through access to public education, it must be admitted) and has been trained by the military as a linguist, I'm very interested in Psycholinguistics, and this may indeed be a subject for my doctoral thesis someday, should I make it that far in academic achievement.

    In line with my interests, I found myself in absolute agreement with the points I read here.

    When I listen to people of low economic origins back home, I can see the difference in their future potential merely in the way they speak. Poor kids (like myself) who make an effort to speak grammatically, and with a good vocabulary (mine was primarily acquired through reading, thankfully my parents never discouraged that as some do) tend to do much better in life, economicall. At the same time, kids who had better starting points who made no effort at reading and intellectual pursuits are now far behind me (as evidenced by a lot of the discussion at my high school reunion). In fact, some people seem to devolve to a worse vocabulary as they find themselves sinking down the economic ladder. This doesn't really make much sense to me, unless it's a function of protective colouration in the economic strata in which they find themselves. I know that I have a very flexible vernacular depending upon the group I find myself in at the time. Friends who know me well have commented upon it before.

    Intelligence is one enabler of progress, but the pure ability is worthless in the wrong context. The smartest English professor in the world will not be able to communicate his most in-depth knowledge of Western Literature to a Chinese peasant. 1. The Chinese peasant doesn't speak English, nor presumably, the professor speak Chinese. 2. The Chinese peasant has no context of knowledge to place the professor's communications in. Not knowing who Chaucer is, the concept of who is derivative of Chaucer is impossible to benefit from.

    This may seem obvious, but people act in ways every day which fail to take into account this very thing.

    If native intelligence were all that mattered, early homo sapiens would not have been cave men- they would have invented a hi-tech world in a single generation. You can be the smartest Bushman in the Kalahari, but without the cultural institutions of the modern world surrounding you from birth, you will never figure out how to fly.

    My native linguistic ability is negated by the cultural environment I find myself in at the moment. How much worse to be inarticulate, and unable to clearly formulate my internal dialogue because I lacked exposure to the vocabulary, and therefore the very concepts that I need. Sure, I might grasp these concepts in a vague way, much as anyone can formulate a new concept from nothingness. But we all know that true innovation is MUCH more difficult and rare than capitalizing on another's knowledge. Essentially, without adequate vocabulary and grammatical construction, I'm inventing the wheel every day, and even more importantly, have no way to communicate my invention to someone else. Who may have already invented it (mentally) but has no way to communicate it to me. How to collaborate?

    I'm a fairly knowledgeable person, with a better than average understanding of technology, and verbal aptitude in the 99th percentile. Which does me very little good when I'm working with my Iraqi counterparts here. Mostly, we do not have common vocabulary, and secondarily, we have severely diverging world views- mine fairly straight-forward, cause-and-effect Western scientifically oriented. Theirs: primarily mystical, based upon a fate-oriented attitude of submission to the will of Allah, where things happen in a fashion almost completely outside of human control.

    When I listen to conversations around me, with my pitiful Arabic language ability, (give me a break- I've only been here 3 months! LOL) it strikes me how EVERY sentence refers to God in some way. Inshallah, Hamdilallah, W'allah. The very structure of the language re-inforces the mystical and supersititious belief that God makes every decision, from the smallest subatomic particle to the way a person behaves, on the fly. Note for secular humanists: People who speak Arabic as their primary and only language probably cannot recognize a world without God's will manifested in literally everything. They are literally programmed to think that way.

    Language matters. Culture (nicluding education) matters. These things are related. Language is the "operating system" part of the "software" of the human being. All other abstract thinking other than some spatial relationship and mathematical processing parts of the brain are dependant upon running the information through language to parse for meaning. Therefore, language MUST have and CANNOT AVOID having an effect on the ability of the individual to process abstract concepts. Not only individual linguistic abilty, (both native aptitude and the multiplier effect of language education), but the language itself, be it Japanese or Spanish, MUST have some effecton on the ability of the individual to think in certain ways. Undoubtedly, some languages are more effective at communicating in certain modes, whether we crudely define those modes along an emotional/logical axis, or in more subtle and diverse modes yet to be defined. Innuit famously have many words for snow- surely one can communicate more efficiently and precisely, not to mention poetically, in the Innuit language about "snow" than one might in ancient Mayan. Perhaps Japanese can express more emotion about cherry blossoms than any other language. Currently, English, particularly American English, is the language of the modern technological world, in large part because its bastardized influences have forced flexibility and tortured grammatical construction upon us until necessity became virtue. In part, because any technological term originated anywhere in the world quickly makes its way into English, more seamlessly than it is used in its original ethno-linguistic context.

    I'll close with a couple random thoughts:

    1. Perhaps some day, we will construct artificial languages of extreme subtlety and nuance purely for discussing art and flower gardening, and others for the rigidly cause-and-effect thinking required for engineering.

    2. Will we become truly different ethnic groups then, techie geeks and artsy-fartsy folks? (Nah- creativity allows and calls for too much overlap in right-/left-brain thinking.)



    Post a Comment

    Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

    << Home