When mankind created vocabulary little did they know of its complications in the 21st century world. Knowledge acquisition and vocabulary has a unique relationship, which is directly linked to Language as a Way of Knowing. The claim discusses whether our vocabulary is a simple reaction to our previous knowledge or is our knowledge acquisition shaped by the vocabulary we know. On one hand, our vocabulary had become so influential that our world is completely built and dependent on it, which is the pinnacle point of Whorfarianism.
On the other hand, our language acts as a metaphoric cloak for our knowledge and communicates it rather than have any influence of what knowledge we can attain which is the main belief of linguistic universalism and Pinker, believes in vocabulary’s ability to influence knowledge acquisition rather than define it. This assignment will evaluate, first of all, the validity of the claim through these three theories and furthermore, if this claim is to be true, does our vocabulary promote or limit our knowledge acquisition.
Vocabulary is a “body of words that provide a medium of expression for mental habits” (“Vocabulary”); however in order to evaluate the function ‘vocabulary’ plays on knowledge acquisition in the different areas of knowledge, we can assume that vocabulary is any system of symbols that communicates thoughts, concepts and emotions which vary from alphabetical characters to mathematical symbols. Daniel Chandler claimed, “Language is a cloak conforming to the customary categories of thought of its speakers”. This presents vocabulary as “a dress of thought” (Chandler) rather than a ‘mould’ for knowledge.
In evaluating the claim, one can argue that although our vocabulary may be able to communicate our knowledge, it does not shape our knowledge acquisition. For example, shooting a basketball consists of the following steps: bring the ball up, aim at the hoop and throwing the ball at the hoop. If someone says shoot the ball, one would not be able to conduct the procedure unless one knows of the above steps. This shows that our vocabulary only represents knowledge so it would be convenient to communicate it and is not involved in attaining knowledge.
In the realms of mathematics, dated back 25,000 years ago, the Ishango tribe carved tally marks running the length of a bone. The Ishango bone’s carved notches were believed to have constructed a numerical system of prime numbers, multiplication and division, and a lunar calendar. In this scenario, although the Ishango people are not using any vocabulary they are able to acquire knowledge. It was only centuries later that numeric vocabulary was born. The prehistoric mathematicians gained the preconceived knowledge before creating mathematical vocabulary and numbers, to present their knowledge.
Edward Sapir and his student, Benjamin Whorf, theorized that knowledge and thought are rigidly restricted to our language. In ‘The Status of Linguistics as a Science’ Sapir states, “the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group”. For example, the only method of attaining any historical knowledge is if one learns from the historian’s words. If there is no language to communicate and shape our thought we would not have knowledge of the past, unless one is a witness to a historical event.
In reality, this is not the case, therefore, students solely rely on the historian’s vocabulary to learn history. This is a clear example of linguistic determinism, where language determines knowledge. A problem of knowledge is the historian’s personal bias in his work. Cameron believes that “The Chinese themselves will never abolish that hateful practice of buying and selling their women like so much merchandise” (McClain). In this case, the reader would be shaped to believe that the Chinese men objectify women.
However, this is not true in the 21st century as Hornby states, “women make up the backbone of production-line workers in China’s private sector”. As our knowledge is completely dependent upon the historian’s words, it comes to a point where we do not know whose words to believe. Linguistic relativism is another theory, which states that different languages will cause people to perceive the world differently as Sapir states, “No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. ” I have realized this is an evident problem in the arts.
As I am a bilingual Chinese and English speaker, I have realized that romantic songs in Chinese have an emotional depth that is lacked in its English version, even though the vocabulary is translated correctly. Therefore, it is due to this depth that romances in oriental countries are more serious and is perceived as a step before marriage (Hsu) in comparison to the Western world where relationships are formed on “strong emotional experiences” (Cohen). The same sentiment is portrayed by Pablo Neruda as he mentions how the English and French translation of his work “do not correspond to Spanish – neither in vocalization…or the weight of words.
It is not a question of interpretative equivalence… but this correctness of translation, can be the destruction of a poem. ” Therefore, Sapir-Whorf believes that lingual relativism is untranslatable as different languages determine different types of knowledge. The main argument against Sapir-Whorf’s linguistic determinism, is Pinker’s reference to the deaf, people who have been isolated from vocabulary. He argues that if vocabulary completely defines knowledge, would the lack of vocabulary suggest the lack of knowledge? Would it suggest that the deaf have no knowledge acquisition?
Reality is quite the contrary as the deaf do have the ability to think and communicate through their body. Mentalese is an adaptation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis theorized by Pinker. Instead of assuming that language defines thinking is restricted language, he believed in the potential for language to influence rather than determine thinking as he claimes, “stating that differences among languages cause differences in the thoughts of their speaker” (Pinker). In this case, language can either limit or promote knowledge acquisition.
Vocabulary can limit knowledge acquisition because it does not entirely incorporate the whole truth of an idea or concept. Bertrand Russel’s descriptivist theory states that for every word is a short hand abbreviation of a list of descriptive words and facts, that enables the human mind to form a belief. The issue is that the descriptive words to define the primary word might omit other aspects of reality. In politics, man uses this to their advantage to manipulate and persuade the public. George Orwell says “Political language is…designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable” (? ?).
For example, “If we don’t taking the initiative, others will take the initiative before us,” Peres declared to the press, “Israel is facing a series of unprecedented challenges and tests and we cannot remain without a plan” (??? ). Here, ‘take the initiative’ could suggest diplomatic conferences or a military undertaking. The use of euphamism and emotive laden language limiting the knowledge of the civilians through vagueness. Similarly, in ethics, vocabulary limits our knowledge by omitting the complexities of the situation. An example is a famous law case in 1884 about the cannibalism of the crewmembers of the Mignonette.
After the Mignonette capsized, the four-crew members (a cabin boy and 3 others) escaped to a lifeboat where they had to survive without food or water for the next 11 days. The cabin boy had drunk seawater and was dying. He was killed and the other members fed on his flesh and were rescued a week later. There are many who believed that the act of the crew was ethical while others believes it was unethical. Both words do not portray the complexities of the situation, and others would gain on partial knowledge of the situation with the choice of either word.
On the other hand, vocabulary is also used to develop new knowledge. In mathematics we use vocabulary even though we do not know exactly what it is but we use it for complex ideas. Although we can comprehend concepts of counting with preconceived knowledge like the cavemen, we seem less likely to understand a complex concepts by ‘experiencing it’, but memorize the vocabulary and use it to gather more conceptual knowledge. Educational systems in the 21st century also rely on this method. Students are given the vocabulary first, such as the concept of ‘? ’, and then they apply it in an attempt to gain knowledge.
As a student, even if I do not know any predetermined knowledge about pi, we can still use the vocabulary to find the area of the circle (A=? r^2) regardless of whether we know what pi is or not. Similarly in the natural sciences, students memorize scientific vocabulary first prior to investigating the meaning of the vocabulary through experiments. Therefore, this establishes that vocabulary can promote knowledge when it comes to complex ideas. In conclusion, our vocabulary in most definitely communicate knowledge, however, the fact that it can shape our knowledge is debatable.
With debatable points from Sapir-Whorf and Chandler I believe that the most suitable theory for our 21st century world is Pinker’s. Claiming that vocabulary defines knowledge is not popularly supported and stating that vocabulary plays no role in knowledge acquisition is also a falsity. With our progressive world it is inevitable that our vocabulary would influence attaining knowledge, as it is a means of communication. However, to the extent of how it limits or promotes knowledge acquisition is yet to be known.
Easy Discussion Psychology
Answer: Should sleepwalking be a valid defense for a crime as serious as murder? What about other crimes? 2. What kind of evidence should be required to convince a jury that a crime was committed while sleepwalking.
A. Critically answer these questions by taking a stance (agree or disagree).
B. You are to locate an article on the internet that supports your opinion and include the website’s URL
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