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.

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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.

Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies

Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies

  1. We lose “The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human”
  2. We lose memory of the planet’s many histories and cultures.
  3. We lose some of the best local resources for combatting environmental threats.
  4. Some people lose their mother tongue.

mtff-image1-jpg__800x600_q85_crop“What’s happening with today’s language loss is actually quite different from anything that happened before. Languages in the past disappeared and were born anew, she writes, but ‘they did so in a state of what linguists call ‘linguistic equilibrium.” In the last 500 years, however, the equilibrium that characterized much of human history is now gone. And the world’s dominant languages—or what are often called ‘metropolitan’ languages—are all now rapidly expanding at the expense of ‘peripheral’ indigenous languages. Those peripheral languages are not being replaced.”

SOURCE: Eschner, Kat. “Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Human Rights in China-Linguistics & Philosophy

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world. It requires a gargantuan leap of faith, and a good dose of ingenuity, to assume that all those translations say precisely the same thing.”
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“The linguistic, ultimately conceptual, asymmetry between English and Chinese regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights urges us to be more cautious in dealing with universal values.”

 

“For just one example, a subtle difference between the official English and Chinese versions of the Universal Declaration reveals a much greater schism. The majority of the thirty articles in the English version of the Declaration refer to ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’, while the Chinese translation conveys all such expressions with the phrase ‘ren-ren’, ‘人人’ – literally, ‘man and man’. This linguistic nuance is significant, since it means that the two languages convey the meaning of ‘universality’ in metaphysically distinct ways.”

SOURCE: Bufacchi, Virrorio, and Vir Xiao Ouyang. “Hens, Ducks, & Human Rights in China.” Philosophy Now.

Does the Meaning of Words Rest in Our Private Minds or in Our Shared Experience? -Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box Analogy

maxresdefault“We can never fully access another person’s perspective, but to what extent do our individual private experiences matter when it comes to language and shared understanding? According to the early 20th-century Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the answer is ‘not at all’. A distilled rendering of Wittgenstein’s so-called ‘private language argument,’ Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box Analogy explains why he believed that the meaning behind language inevitably lay in our shared understanding, and not in our private minds, because we simply can’t access each other’s experiences or sensations.”

SOURCE: “Does the Meaning of Words Rest in Our Private Minds or in Our Shared Experience?Aeon.

Saving an Endangered Language

fullsizerender“The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest have a rich and complex culture, much of which has been preserved orally. Generations of oppression and marginalization have taken a heavy toll and the Tlingit language could have vanished completely.”

“Beginning in the 1980s, decades of work have gone into mapping the Tlingit language and preserving its vast oral literature, with $480,000 in grants from NEH. The program has achieved much: Tlingit is now incorporated into every level of education in Southeast Alaska, where Tlingit words and place names are now reentering the mainstream. In 2009, linguists completed a Tlingit dictionary, which is now available online. For Keri Eggleston, a linguist on the project, ‘it’s really inspiring to see kids introduce themselves in the language, and find meaning in life through studying the language.’”

SOURCE: “Saving an Endangered Language.” National Endowment for the Humanities.