The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World

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“The trouble now is not that we aren’t using language clearly enough, but that words and the truths they convey are no longer as stable as they used to be. […] In the political arena, drawing on cultural and contextual implicatures to make an audience believe something is a common way to plausibly deny and breezily wave off accusations of lying. So, it doesn’t matter exactly what is said, it only matters what listeners think you said or meant. It’s sadly unsurprising that, done on a large scale, it can be easy to confuse, normalize, and legitimize this kind of misbehavior. Plausible deniability has never been easier thanks to a fast shifting language and cleverly worded implicatures.”

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“In a post-truth era, public discourse can become muddled as words rapidly develop new meanings and connotations for different groups, increasing in unwieldy complexity.

Even if both sides of a political divide ultimately want to solve the same big problems in society, though they may use the same words, those words sometimes seem to mean entirely different things. When it comes to hotly-debated concepts that trigger emotional or ideological reactions, such as ‘climate change,’ the same words can be received completely differently by different people. The common semantic ground we normally depend on suddenly seems shaky.

Thanks to contexts in which implicatures are key, listeners are always reading between the lines and filling in blanks for themselves, usually with their own beliefs and ideologies. And so, the gaps in understanding one another can be as wide as if we were speaking completely different languages.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World.” JSTOR Daily.

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Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too

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“The impact that shifting languages can have on us reveals how central it is to our identities and social connections. In a series of intriguing studies, Boaz Keysar and his colleagues at the University of Chicago have shown that when speaking a second language, people tend to behave more rationally. In our native languages, we’re somewhat stuck in our habits, and likely to be susceptible to classic cognitive biases. But the more thoughtful effort that is required to speak a second language helps elevate us into more rational territory.”

SOURCE: Cook, Ed. “Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too.” Quartz.

The Language Wars

“[T]oday, languages are changing more rapidly than ever.  The reality is most lexicographers are likely scrambling to keep up with all the neologisms and newly developed, most prominent meanings. We can point to the networked behavior of digital and social media as one of the driving factors, the ‘how’ of rapid meaning changes. But why are there so many more new connotations for words? If there is such a thing as a linguistic time of peace, is there a linguistic time of war?

rhetoricThe fact is language does not change in steady ebbs and flows. Cultural and social forces can play a major role in the speed at which language changes. Some language scholars claim that language actually behaves differently during times of social upheaval and even war, according to linguist Donna Farina. So as a society becomes increasingly unstable, it turns out this is when linguistic innovation happens more rapidly, possibly as speakers seek to explain, reclaim, dilute or degrade certain terms on the linguistic battlefield.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Language Wars.” JStor Daily.

The Stranger’s Tongue

“[F]iction gives people the possibility to look at the world from the perspective of another person’s life. Kundera calls this an ‘experimental self.’ Literature from other countries would possibly open up that space even further, and you’re not looking at the culture from the outside but from someone’s point of view who lives there or has grown up there.

As a translator she said she’d become very aware of the relation between culture and language:

languagesSome expressions or experiences become embedded in language that is almost unique to that culture. Therefore the two are very closely related. So what you’re trying to do as a translator is to make the author you’re translating understood in your own language, while at the same time stretch your culture and language a bit to accommodate what makes their voice and experience different. Which in the end might change your own culture a little bit.”

SOURCE: Buchanan, Rowan H. “The Stranger’s Tongue.” Electric Literature.

How Do Languages Change & Evolve

Alex Gendler explains how linguists group languages into language families, demonstrating how these linguistic trees give us crucial insights into the past.

SOURCE: Gendler, Alex. “How Do Languages Evolve.” TED-Ed.

Translation as Activism

Herta Müller’s translator, Philip Boehmon, on imagination as the key to empathy.

“Herta Müller shows people caught up in a linguistic world where the language doesn’t match the reality. In a way, for her, there is a kind of primal echo from when she was little, when she encountered words that not only did not match reality but actually masked it or were in opposition to reality, and were thus loaded with all sorts of potentially ‘lethal content.’ She was used to living with that tension and it is something she portrays very well in her characters.”

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“Translation is a bridge that serves to enlarge imagination, to connect to the world. We’re impoverished without it. As translators we are both diplomats and activists. The sheer act of translation is one of engaging with a world outside of whatever world we’re in.”

SOURCE: Hofmann, Jennifer-Nahomi. “Translation as Activism: An Interview with Philip BoehmLiterary Hub.

The Mind Isn’t Locked in the Brain but Extends Far Beyond It

“You might want to ask why we should think of minds extending into bodies and artefacts, rather than merely interacting with them. Does it make any difference? One answer is that, in the cases described, brain, body and world are not acting as separate interacting systems, but as a coupled system, tightly meshed by complex feedback relations, and that we need to look at the whole in order to understand how the process unfolds.”

idea_SIZED-dierk-schaefer-2961565820_5a03199811_o“Language is a particularly powerful means of extension and enhancement, serving, in Clark’s phrase, as scaffolding that allows the biological brain to achieve things it could not do on its own. Linguistic symbols provide new focuses of attention, enabling us to track features of the world we would otherwise have missed, and structured sentences highlight logical and semantic relations, allowing us to develop new, more abstract reasoning procedures.”

SOURCE: Frankish, Keith. “The Mind Isn’t Locked in the Brain but Extends Far Beyond It.” Aeon.