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Deconstruction of Our Language
I wanted to open a forum addressing the ideas brought up in today's sixth hour about the effect of language on our perceptions of the world. It is with our words that we reinforce our thinking, whether we notice it or not. The meaning of the words we use can have different effects than we might realize. As I was listening in class, I couldn't help thinking of something my dad told me recently. I was talking about something and I said that someone "commited" suicide. My dad stopped me in the middle of my sentence, he said, "no, he died of suicide. He did not 'commit' suicide." When I wondered why this mattered, he told me that it is a very important distinction. To say that one commits suicide enforces an idea that the person committed a crime and that it is not the great tragedy and loss that it is. I found this very interesting, just a simple word changes the whole meaning behind an idea, and I had no idea what my language was using actually implying. I am curious if any of you have had a similiar experience, where certain phrasing of a word makes a difference! I would like to hear your thoughts on this, whether through examples, experiences, suggestions on what can be done with this idea of really examining language, or just your general thoughts you had about the ideas brought up in our class today!
When I first read this, I couldn't think of any specific examples that I have thought about or spoken to others about lately. But it kind of reminds me of the saying "you can't have your cake and eat it too." I'm not sure if this is quite the same as what you were saying, but whenever my dad and I hear someone say that, we just kind of look at each other and shake our heads. He told me that the saying is actually "you can't eat your cake and have it too." It seems like an insignificant difference, but when you think about it, the latter actually makes much more sense. I mean think about it, if I have my cake, why can't I eat it? But if I eat my cake, I can't still have it because it's gone; I ate it. This isn't quite the same as your example because it's not really implying much without the person that says it realizing, but like you said, it's kind of interesting to see how something so small changes meaning--and I also think it's interesting to kind of see how small changes occur over time and no ones notices, but that point may be irrelevant to this discussion. (Side note, I believe this is actually how they found the Unabomber: He used that phrasing in something he wrote (anonymously) as the Unabomber, as well as in some letters to his mother and brother. Because that phrasing is so uncommon, detectives could link him to the crimes by connecting the phrase in the two places.)
@nicole Yours and @gil 's examples are both interesting examples of how language is not concrete at all how Jacque Derrida was right because there is never one meaning to a work so how could there be any meaning at all. I have a phrase that confuses everyone i say it to. The phrase goes "it is six or one half of a dozen another." This phrase is used when someone brings up two choices but the choices are the same. After all, 6 is one half of a dozen. I think that not only the way we use language (phrasing of words and sentences) but the way that we say words and phrases, the way that language sounds can be foggy and not clear, just like the meaning of words can be foggy. When I say that phrase I am sure that some don't know what it means or they think I say "six is one half of a dozen or another" and just get completely confused. Through this crappy explanation, my point is that not only that the meaning of written words can be foggy. but even the way we say words or phrases or the way that we read (or misread) books can be unclear.
@nicole I believe that one of the reasons that language is confusing is because many words have the same meaning when used one way , but when used under different context they do not serve the same purpose. For example lets take a look at the word "intact" and safe" They both have something to do with feeling secure and people usually use them interchangeably when trying to talk about something of that nature. When in reality the word safe means that it was not exposed to harm meanwhile intact means it wasn't damaged after any sort of harm. A lot of layers within any word which makes them so versatile.
@msar I think your point of layers of meanings is very important when discussing language. If you look up synonyms to a word, you will get several others that mean 'exactly or nearly' the same thing, but still for the lack of a better word they give off different vibes. They each feel slightly different when they are read or spoken and that is very interesting. Them having layers is such a powerful thing to think of as well because it can grow and grow. For example the word 'sand' is so random, but if you think about it you can take it in so many different directions. you can think of its texture and how it is not sturdy, or you can see a sandy color, or see sand on a beach and it expand in that way. again, I know its random but you can really expand upon every word with layers and layers of meaning and I think that's interesting
@snowyyeti when you mention reading and misreading words can be easy, it lead me to think about how not thinking deeply about something can leave you SO in the dark. Reading a piece of literature or even a text message you can be so misled by words without voice. So I think an author's voice/ style is very important in conveying meaning but even then, it is easy to miss. if you just take the words for exactly how they seem at first glance and do not try to investigate it further, you would possibly skip out on something important. But then again there is the question of over analyzing
@snowyyeti I don't agree with the assertion that these examples show the absence of meaning in words. If anything, I think they would show how words have even more meaning. With @gil's example, the word "committed" has so much meaning that it completely changes our understanding of what we mean when we say "commit" suicide. And such a small change--"committed" to "died"--changed the whole meaning of the statement. So much weight was carried in that one little word. My example was a little different, but it still shows how just the structure of our sentences make such a big difference. The words "have" and "eat" have very specific meanings specific to the context, that they cannot be interchanged without the statement being completely changed. I don't think this shows the absence of meaning at all, but it rather reinforces the presence of meaning and how much it matters.
I don't have any specific example to share, but this topic made me think of the diversity of languages. With the example of suicide, in English we say "committed", while in Spanish you would say something that translates to "I suicided". It just goes to show the difference in thinking that comes from the language structure you know. If applied to Derrida, it boosts his claims that language doesn't accurately depict meaning. After all, there is only one meaning and if words can be different, then it isn't there.
@theboulder I was a little confused with what you are getting at with this point:
After all, there is only one meaning and if words can be different, then it isn't there.
Do you think it is true that there is only one meaning to something? I understand what you mean about the meaning of something not being able to be accurately depicted when one cannot use words correctly, and sometimes our words can't fully encapsulate what something really is. However, I am curious to hear you expand! Do you think if something has multiple interpretations then it doesn't have deeper meaning but instead those understandings have no meaning at all?
Just commenting on some of these points. I think that in something having multiple meanings or words/signifiers/descriptors takes away from its meaning is at least a bit too broad. The thought that multiple signifiers is a reason for a lack of meaning doesn’t make sense to me as this would take away meaning from just about everything. I say this because different languages, although able to be translated between each other, are each developed separately, especially languages with completely different dialects from the romantic languages. These individualized developments form differing idiosyncrasies with their signification. Am I making sense? (Asking cause idk if I sound stupid)
@gil Hmm I don't know if I would say that there is only one meaning to something. Since we have been discussing Derrida it is my understanding that he believes that. I don't know if there is actually a single reality. Many could argue reality is perception are therefore there are many realities, and are many dimensions different realities?? I don't know.
If a word has multiple interpretations, I would not say that each has no value. After all, they are all trying to transmit the idea of something. Have you heard the example of the blind men each touching the elephant and each thinking an elephant is something different? Maybe it is kinda like that, each interpretation isn't false but isn't 100% accurate. In that sentence I was trying to say that reality is all or nothing, so if a word cannot get all, then it's nothing. I don't think words aren't valuable though! That's for sure. Let me know if you want me to clarify more.
Language and culture are a hundred percent intertwined. I don't mean just Language by words I mean languages art and music and architecture and because this got the language of a culture expresses Itself by. That is the reality of the world that we live in. Ultimately Impossible we would have to create another whole nother new language to escape the phenomenon which we discussed in class. at least think about language in a completely different way. At least in my opinion as someone who values Western Civilization. I find a whole find a whole lot of issues in progress for progress is to put it lightly. it appears don't you go down the rabbit hole you won't be able to dig yourself out clearly this what the other deconstructionist and Derrida himself we're going for they wanted to make a process nonreversible. when you strip away everything which makes a civilization civilization. the meaning of its words, it's art, it's Heroes and myths, it's family. All that you will have left is chaos and then we'll and older animalistic devices. Because the truth of the matter is people need some form of hierarchy and things restricting them. every single Society in human existence has done this there are extremes and there are what is acceptable terms in that society in which you live. and without those controls Society runs so I guess I don't really see the point. maybe I'm just not smart enough to carry a whole new different way of saying things. It just seems like it's a cosmically massive challenge to even try to attempt to this on a small scale let alone a civilizational wide one.
This is interesting to think about, especially if you remove some of the supports. Does the thing exist without the word for it? A word in isolation doesn't mean much if it doesn't have a connection to anything, reality-based or otherwise. Context is the most defining characteristic of a word, since they're pretty much all defined by what they are in relation to other words. This brings me to the big thought, is this tied to language in a deep way, or something else? Does someone who can't speak any language still have some internal system of symbols used to make sense of the world? Surely, right? Words having a multitude of meanings is super interesting, because then what are they representing: the variations in reality or the variations in the way we see things?
@conster I liked your example with different languages, and no, you do not sound stupid! In fact, I think we can all realize how this discussion now becomes one linked to our newest theorist! I agree that there is not one single meaning to everything, but that more ideas and thoughts put into a topic, the better it can be understood! However, does every idea that is added to a topic have value? Where do we draw the line in adding ideas in order to draw out meaning? It all seems very subjective if one were to decide where ideas stop having value, so can and should that be done? If so, how?
@salmon Much of the language that you used made me think of punctuation and the application of it. Besides letters as symbols, there are a multitude of other lines and dots that change the words around them as well, or more alter the structure of a sentence. Punctuation is just another way to give words new meaning which makes things even more complicated! There are so many things to unpack with this...
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