The power of language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Xmo1, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

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    I observe that in everyday life people routinely underestimate the power of language. Paying particular attention to punctuation marks as people were speaking to me, I learned to identify a more robust understanding in the meaning of their words, and many times they were mistaken in the way they transmitted their messages.

    Sentence structure and choice of words: Don't play with the knife. You will cut yourself. This is different from - you might cut yourself. It is different from the knife can cut you. It could take the form in someone's mind (conscious or subconscious) as a command, or as a rehearsal (that creates neural pathways of least resistance to be followed by behavior). This might be particularly dangerous to a hospitalized person under the influence of a drug or chemical that makes people more open to suggestion. The rehearsal might be dangerous to a person who has their inhibitions removed similarly by a drug or chemical (I'm thinking alcohol).

    I'm not sure how much woo is contained in Neuro Linguistic Programming, but for decades marketing people have been injecting symbols into advertising to entice people to act as a result of their messages. And today, especially with mass media resources, rhetoric sways the minds of masses who do not understand it. Yes, there is a serialized couch potato near me.

    It's time to bring Linguistics into the mainstream of American society by introducing it in secondary school, because language shakes the hand of understanding. The simplest concepts of Linguistics shield people against the tyranny of ignorance. People need to know the power of their language; how they are affected by it, and how they affect others when using it properly or carelessly.
     
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    "... they were mistaken in the way they transmitted their messages...

    You really need to read Orwell's 1984. Give special attention to the character of Syme.
     
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  5. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Syme's central philosophy about linguistics is a symbol, writ small, of the larger fascist philosophy of the government - Syme believes whole-heartedly that there is one correct way to express any given thought, and it's his job to educate others to bring them up to speed. Once all thoughts have been carefully pared down to the minimum correctness, of course, there will be no creativity in our language, but that suits him - and the government - just fine.

    *And I don't use the term 'fascist' loosely - the core of fascism, generally, is that there is one correct way to do things, and it is the governing body's duty to show the public the "correct" way.


    'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

    'We're getting the language into its final shape -- the shape it's going to have when nobody speaks anything else. When we've finished with it, people like you will have to learn it all over again. You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words -- scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We're cutting the language down to the bone.
     
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  7. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

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    "many times they were mistaken in the way they transmitted their messages.

    Sentence structure and choice of words: Don't play with the knife. You will cut yourself. This is different from - you might cut yourself. It is different from the knife can cut you. It could take the form in someone's mind (conscious or subconscious) as a command, or as a rehearsal (that creates neural pathways of least resistance to be followed by behavior). This might be particularly dangerous..."

    By way of explanation: There is a concern to prevent harm (Don't play with the knife.), and yet the language of the message has it's own affect on the brain, which might be totally different from the intention of the sender of the message. The brain, in creating neural pathways, may set up an instance where the receiver is more likely to harm themselves (You will cut yourself. - which is the last and most memorable part of the message). So there is a better and worse way to use the language and punctuation to send the intended message.
     
  8. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    This is pretty much exactly what you said in the OP. Do you think I did not read it?

    This the same thing.


    Is repeating your premise three times, virtually word-for-word, an effective use of communication?

    Is it possible that one's time would be better spent improving one's own communication skills, rather than judging those of others?
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2017
  9. Bowser Right Here, Right Now Valued Senior Member

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    Images are so much more powerful than language. Television is probably the best and worst thing to come about.
     
  10. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

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    Um, its not it's and effect not affect.
     
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Heh. Good catch.
     
  12. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

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    You might hint at why you introduced George Orwell. 'of the larger fascist philosophy of the government' Does that have anything to do with my premise, which was: I observe that in everyday life people routinely underestimate the power of language.

    Or my conclusion, It's time to bring Linguistics into the mainstream of American society by introducing it in secondary school.

    I could understand that - if you were a marketing genius. It would be a good thing to keep people in the dark about what you were really saying. Otherwise, to enlighten people with the study of linguistics in secondary school would be helpful, and not a matter of fascism. Your reply was more unbelievable than overly sophisticated. All I could do was to repeat parts of my OP hoping to get a better response, which is yet to unfold.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
  13. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

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    True. True. Thanks. You might get me on capitalizing linguistics. I have a Harbrace handbook, but usually don't use it when posting to a forum. Maybe I should, at least when posting to this one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    I did more than hint; I quoted you:

    .
    You presume, as did Orwell's government, that there is one correct way to transmit a message, and that all the rest are mistakes.
    That is fascism at its finest - a single source of what is considered right, and the active suppression of individual expression.

    You also - possibly more egregiously - presume to know what message the speaker intended to send (ESP?), and therefore know better than them how to say it.

    You should eschew these presumptions.
     
  15. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

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    483
    You made your point. Keyword your. My point was that because language is powerful people should be careful what words they use when speaking. People routinely translate messages. Message, sender, receiver, translation, understanding: That's communication. So you hope that you get it right, and usually it's not a problem. I'm going for a walk. No problem in translation, even for my little brain.

    I have experience with the mental translations of messages, especially how simple messages can be misinterpreted by the brain. Obviously, mom here didn't want sonny to cut himself with the sharp knife. He did though, because mom is an authority figure, and he believed her. The knife 'slipped,' and ouch. Sometimes what we say can take on quite a different meaning to others. Orwell's story has a lot to do with linguistics, but probably not with my post.
     
  16. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    Well, perhaps that's the important point here.

    Mom did not tell the boy to cut himself. She made a prediction. Those are not the same thing - the latter is a statement (declarative), the former is a command (imperative).

    The boy has some responsibility to correctly interpret. That is, if he's ever going to make it as an adult. Her job is to teach him to think for himself. And she would not be teaching him well if she spoon-fed him everything from a platter.
     
  17. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

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    Oh dear lord...
    Presumably English isn't your first language.
    In the phrase "Don't play with that knife you'll cut yourself" there is an unspoken but understood meaning of Don't play with that knife OTHERWISE you MIGHT cut yourself. Or IF you play with that knife THEN THERE IS A CHANCE THAT you will cut yourself.
    Likewise,"Take an umbrella because it's raining and you'll get wet" which - parsed the way you've done with the previous one - implies that getting wet in the rain is a direct result of taking the umbrella whereas it actually means IF YOU DON'T take an umbrella (and use it) you'll get wet because it's raining.
    As Dave pointed out (and then had to explain) there isn't just one way to get your meaning across.
    Language - and its use - is full of nuance.
     
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Not just a chance, a near inevitability. It's a prediction, as others here have noted.
    That risks confusing authoritarian government in general, and Orwell's conception of it in particular, with fascism. Orwell was facing Stalin, and reacting to the intellectually fashionable complicity with the Leftwing horror unfolding in the Soviet Union. Note that Newspeak and Thought Police and the rest have clear roots in Animal Farm, which overtly parodies the Left Authoritarian more directly than the Right.

    All the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others - that's Left language, not Right. Fascists don't talk about everybody being equal.
     
  19. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

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    I think you my be conflating the two stories, and thus creating a (possibly inadvertent) straw man.

    As far as I am aware, Newspeak does not appear Animal Farm. It is a very strong theme in 1984, and it is this particular aspect to which I am alluding. (Thought Crime is also from 1984, but that is irrelevant on two counts.)

    Even if there are some common themes between the two stories, that is not relevant, since the one I referenced is 1984, and there was no suggestion of "everyone is equal though some are more equal than others" in 1984.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2017
  20. birch Valued Senior Member

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    hilarious code switching.
     
  21. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Language is about communicating one's ideas to someone else. The communication can be in any form and if the idea is communicated, no more, no less, then the communication can be said to be at least valid.
    Language is no different.
    In your example the idea that "knives are dangerous and that one is likely to cut oneself if one continues playing with the knife" is communicated via an idiom of English, where the meaning is different than the literal translation of the words. As has been pointed out, language is full of nuance related to society, familiarity with the person communicating with, etc. In your example the communication changes the more literally correct "you might" to "you will" as a means of emphasising the undesirability of the outcome. Just expressing "you might" expresses a probability that is undetermined, and thus one can not gauge the expected result. If one tells someone that they "will" (as in your example) then while not literally correct it expresses a meaning beneath the literal, a meaning that the person telling the other finds the likelihood higher than they would prefer, and so is emphasising matters in an effort to get the other person to stop.

    All languages are full of idioms, metaphors, nuance, subtleties etc that move away from the literal. But key to communication is that the idea one has is understood by the person you're expressing it to, no more and no less. If they don't understand it fully then your communication is lacking. If they read too much into what you have said then your communication was not clear or precise enough. One must consider who one is communicating to as to whether to use words literally or as you think the other would understand it. Neither is necessarily more correct than the other. The result (the passing of accurate information etc) is surely the only arbiter.
     
  22. Speakpigeon Registered Senior Member

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    Language doesn't have any power. People have.

    Still, it's true that language can be an instrument of power. Hell, it's essentially used to influence other people. But we all do it. It's not just the "fascists". It's all of us. Whether it's with good or bad intentions, it remains a tool we use to affect what people around us do or think. And I would be surprised if many people didn't somehow understand that, including people with reputedly less linguistic skills, or just "bad language".

    We're definitely not all equal in our ability to use language but it would be a mistake to simplify the situation by suggesting a neat divide between those able to express themselves properly and all the others. Many a powerful man has shown himself incompetent in his use of language, for example. And vice versa. You even have now at the White House one guy who usually doesn't speak "good English", and yet who may be very effective at least in some areas of the opinion for that very reason.

    Yes, I think you're absolutely right, it would be an improvement in the lives of many people. Language is an instrument of influence and power but it's also a means of communication. Many people can be trapped in their social group and poor language skills doesn't help. I don't think this would change the face of the world, but it would help.
    EB
     

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