People Generally Think That We Can Detach Essay

Length: 6 pages Sources: 12 Subject: Communication - Language Type: Essay Paper: #2494384 Related Topics: People, Linguistics, Spirituality, Text Messaging
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … people generally think that we can detach ourselves from the world around us and objectively evaluate and reason through our experiences. This is the classical line of thought initially proposed by philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and, later, Descartes who fashioned his Cartesian principle to the purpose that we can step back, evaluate our internalized knowledge, think it through and from thence, decide which to accept, which to erase in order to formulate a foundation of 'sure and safe beliefs. Rationalism persisted through Kant and then to Husserl who fashioned his phenomenology proposing that performing 'epoche' i.e. bracketing our assumptions can lead us to better seeing the essence of the phenomena and to perceiving an objective world.

Others are less certain.

Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir, for instance, believe that it is our vocabulary -- our language -- that shapes our perceptions. Sapir argued that:

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society... We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. (Sapir 1958 [1929], p. 69)'

Whorf gave the example of Hopi, an American-Indian language, where one word exists for everything that flies (the sole exception being birds). This word is extending to insects, pilots, airplanes, and so forth. By us distinguishing between the various categories, we affix each with a different mental model. Hopis, however, using the generic word for all possess one constant mental model. Similarly, Eskimos have many different words for snow, tagging each with a different connotation; we have but one: 'snow' whilst the Aztecs make no differentiator between snow, cold, and ice (The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). There are many more examples, but the reducible element is that we are compelled to articulate the multiplicity and diffuseness of our thoughts by language. We cannot talk at all except by using language to codify our thoughts, and language, therefore, sculpts them.

The fact that 'the vocabulary that we have does more than shape our knowledge, it shapes what we can know' was affirmed in its fullest by the school of 'linguistic determinism' that proposed that our thinking is wholly determined by our language. 'Linguistic relativity' addends the proposition that different languages, accordingly, cause cultures to think and act in different ways. Taking this as premise and posting that such is the case, we run into difficulties because how then can we fully communicate with and share agreements with others from cultures different than our own. If langue shapes the way we think and people develop with different language structure, can we ever forge a discourse of shared communication? (An associated question that comes to mind is the following: what about people who learn one or more languages: do they come to think in diverse ways, or is it their birth language that has the greatest impact on their thinking?).

The strongest evidence for the Sapir-Whorf thesis was that foragers from the Piraha tribe, whose language restricts itself to concepts just for numbers open and two - whilst the word 'many' was used to connote quantities exceeding two - were unable to distinguish between four and five objects placed in a row and had challenges with larger numbers (The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). More strikingly, the Piraha were unable to imitate taps conducted more than three times and were unable to remember the quantity of fish drawn on the lid of a box shown them only a few minute previous (ibid). The study, however, has its critics with scientists questioning its reliability.

Linguistic determinism has been refuted for other reasons too. One of these was articulated by Steven Pinker, author of 'How the mind works', when he pointed out that we often lack the language to articulate that that is 'at the edge of our mind'. These words in our mind are, therefore, quite distinct from the language that we actually use. This illustrates that language and thought is not cause and effect but, rather, that there is divisibility between them. More so, we know from experience that even though different cultures may have different habits, value systems, and ways of thinking, nonetheless there is a plethora of items that we can agree upon. And then, individuals from cultures vary. We are heterogeneous with nonconformists exiting in every culture and


In this way, even though the strong form of Sapir-Whorf has been eradicated (namely, that language forms our thought), a more moderate tinge of Whorfianism lingers which suggests that the ways in which we perceive phenomena may be influenced (rather than determined) by the language we use.

Most intriguing is the fact that if it is language that influences our perceptions, than our perceptions are constantly in flux with each generation, or historical span, perceiving in a slightly different manner mediated by the language that they use, since languages, themselves, are a process of constant change. New words are being created constantly and technology is a progenitor of vocabulary. Just some of the new words produced as recently as the last decade have been the whole new realm of Internet slang with internet-associated terms such as Twitter', Facebook, blog and so forth. None of these words existed 5 years ago. More so, much of this online banter, evolving all the time is becoming part and parcel of regular speech. Take text messaging, for instance, that many say is a new language and so many of its words that are impacting communication: the verb 'to google' for instance or the noun 'app' used to describe programmes for smartphones. All of these (and more) are inextricably tied up with computer-technology infused existence and, consequently, it is likely that only individuals with a corresponding understanding of this technology can adequately understand and share a congenial discourse of understanding (Internet slang).

New words are being coined all the time, and our thinking, accordingly, is constantly changing. Just some of the interesting observations are that "assassination, bump, critic, disgraceful, dwindle, fitful, gloomy, impartial, lonely, sportive, bare-faced, and countless" were words coined by Shakespeare. Whewll coined scientist and physicist in 1840. Thomas Grey spoke about 'picturesque' in 1740, and Samuel Johnson introduced civilization. With the introduction of each new term, mankind was afforded new ways of thinking and, accordingly, new ways of communication (The knower and knowledge). They were now able to better speak with their peers than they could before and exchange a shared discourse. The question is: how could they communicate their understanding to another?

Communication is a process between sender and recipient. It is meant to be effective so that the process is effective and smooth and persuasive conveyance of message is affected. The communication process enables a certain bond of shared meaning and understanding to transpire between sender and recipient for message, therefore, to come across uncorrupted, the process has to be smooth.

There are three areas of knowledge: these include perception of the outside world, emotions, and ethics (Language and thought processes). To communicate our understanding on each of these three formats, sender and recipient need to have a line of understanding between them where sender is able to send his message to recipient in a way that recipient understands him and the recipient is able to decode and dispatch the message back so that the line of communication is kept open. The four prime components of communication are: encoding, the medium of transmission, decoding, and feedback. For optimal transmission, encoder and decoder have to share the same language and frame of perception, and the recipient's and sender's experience, attitudes, culture, knowledge, skill, and perceptions shape and influence the message (Burnett & Dollar, 1989).

Encoding and decoding refers to the language of the message, the substance of it. The more the sender and recipient are able to know of the other's culture and experience, and the better they are able to speak in the other's same language, the better they are able to, conceivably, communicate their understanding to each other (Bovee & Thill, 1992). It may be, therefore, questionable whether individuals from alien culture and experience can adequately understand the other in order to effectively communicate with them.

As said, the three areas of knowledge involve perception of the outside world, emotions, and ethics. Three ways of knowing are scientific, phenomenological and spiritual. Science refers to the method of investigating data via analytic and scientifically manufactured ways of knowing; phenomenology -- refers to direct, immediate contact with phenomena; whilst spirituality represents an intuitive knowledge of the data (Salmon, n.d.). Each area is distinct and each provides a different perspective of the phenomena under study. Let's take the concept of emotion, for instance: Scientists studying 'affect' or evaluation (for thus is emotion called in scientific terms) would quantify it, use a scientific instrument to measure it and may approach it…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bovee, C.L., & Thill, J.V. (1992). Business Communication Today. NY, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Burnett, M.J., & Dollar, A. (1989). Business Communication: Strategies for Success. Houston, Texas: Dane.

Language and thought processes

Internet slang

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