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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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.

Reading “The Stranger” in Tehran

Excerpt from Robert Zaretsky’s interview with Mohammad Hekmat:

What are the pleasures and difficulties in translating Camus into Farsi? Are these difficulties only linguistic, or are there philosophical and political challenges as well?

the-stranger“Linguistically, the difficulty is in certain terms that he uses. Perhaps the most difficult term, which I have seen other translators struggle with too, is the word absurd. There is no direct translation of the word absurd into Persian. I have seen different approaches by Iranian translators — some even just use the transliteration of the word. His more philosophical works have been much harder to translate. I tried to read The Myth of Sisyphus in Persian, and it’s extremely hard to understand. This has been a general issue with translation of modern and Western philosophy into Persian. There is simply a shortage of terms, and the style had no tradition. There have been numerous efforts to invent new words, many of which have been successfully adopted, but it’s an ongoing process.”

SOURCE: Zaretsky, Robert. “Reading ‘The Stranger’ in Tehran: An Interview with Mohammad Hekmat.” Los Angeles Review of Books.

Foucault -The Power Thinker

“Rather than staying in the world of words, in the 1970s he shifted his philosophical attention to power, an idea that promises to help explain how words, or anything else for that matter, come to give things the order that they have.”

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“Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of it working to define the order of things.”

“Discipline, according to Foucault’s historical and philosophical analyses, is a form of power that tells people how to act by coaxing them to adjust themselves to what is ‘normal’. It is power in the form of correct training. Discipline does not strike down the subject at whom it is directed, in the way that sovereignty does. Discipline works more subtly, with an exquisite care even, in order to produce obedient people. Foucault famously called the obedient and normal products of discipline ‘docile subjects’.”

SOURCE: Koopman, Colin. “Why Foucault’s Work on Power Is More Important Than Ever.” Aeon.

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 Dying Tongues of Telangana and Andhra

“With the death of every language, dies a rich culture. It’s an identity that needs to be preserved in the face of an ever-changing world.”

57253816.cms“The contribution of these tribal communities to Telugu culture has been very significant. Many literary works in Telugu have elements from these tribal languages which have also contributed greatly to the evolution of art and culture in the region. Languages are store houses of culture, literature and knowledge. The Chenchu tribe has a rich oral literature; they have high knowledge about herbal medicines. The Valmiki tribe that speaks Kupia has a fascinatingly rich knowledge of forests, flora and fauna. Once these languages die, the wisdom is lost forever.”

SOURCE: Paul, Papri. “The Dying Tongues of Telangana and Andhra.” The Times of India.