Author Topic: On Language  (Read 286 times)

Q. G. Pennyworth

  • Slimy Thing Who
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 86070
  • QUEEN BITCH OF FLYERS
    • View Profile
On Language
« on: December 04, 2018, 10:01:12 pm »
There is an idea floating around that goes something like "the language we speak controls the thoughts we are able to have." It's the subject of serious study, and like all good bullshit there is a corn kernel of truth in it, but the fact is that it's still bullshit.

The arguments in favor go thus: several experiments have been able to demonstrate that certain functions of the mind are, indeed, tied to the available vocabulary, and without that vocabulary the mind simply refuses to recognize some concepts. Languages that do not differentiate blue from green, for example, produce people who don't draw a line between the two colors, and indeed there are whole cities that have blue lights on their traffic signals because well who gives a shit, it's still under the "grue" umbrella, isn't it? In another example, deaf children who learned a limited vocabulary form of sign language were less able to imagine the inner mental experience of others, and this was not changed until they were exposed to people with a wider vocabulary, at which point they caught up quickly with their peers.

So, if we extrapolate this outward, you can see the pull towards imagining that all of human experience is dictated by our language filters. That we are incapable of feeling things for which we have no name, and the things that we can feel have an indelible mark upon them based on our available vocabulary. Perhaps this extends out even further, and there are whole realms of existence that we are blind to from lack of words to understand them.

This, again, is bullshit.

We have all experienced the "wit of the stairwell," when you think of just the right thing to say after the moment is lost and you can never get it back again, regardless of whether we're speakers of French or have heard the term "l'esprit d'escalier." The internet was overjoyed when it found the word "shadenfreude" to perfectly describe its pre-existing love of watching others suffer. Even neologisms like "sonder" have not opened up new feelings -- most of us had already felt at one point or another the complex emotional stew that accompanies an acute realization that others' lives are as real and complex as our own. Experiences can defy our ability to describe them, which by necessity means that our experiences are not limited to what we can describe.

There is, however, something of value in all this.

Vocabulary does not limit what we can feel, but it does put a limit on what we can express, and a lack of vocabulary can pump the brakes on our self-reflection and even our ability to cope. Processing an emotion often requires a certain level of understanding, of examining the thing and putting it in the correct box on the mental shelf. We do this internally -- through the filter of our own consciousness and vocabulary -- and externally by talking things through with trusted friends. When we don't have a word for an experience, we have trouble putting it in the box ourselves, and we have trouble explaining it to others. We rely on metaphor and lengthy descriptions, which make us more self conscious about the whole thing. "If this was really so common, wouldn't there be a quick shorthand for it? I must really be crazy," quoth the brainweasels.

So expanding our vocabulary, especially our emotional vocabulary, is a huge positive thing! And as neologisms and hyper-specialized loanwords infect the wider world of internet english, we can expect to see improvements in our ability to process and communicate our own feelings, and an increased ability to empathize with the complex emotional states of others.

We're not going to start seeing word fairies, though, so quit it.
Overheating Pheremone Pustule of Last Saturday's Jiggle Fun| _xgeWireToEvent: Unknown extension 131, this should never happen.

Don't fucking judge me, I've got tentacles for a face.

Hoopla!

  • gives people the beeps, and most certainly
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 30639
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2018, 11:22:07 pm »
Yes, yes, yes. This is something I have been grappling with in my therapy. I had no idea I had so many feelings which were almost impossible to articulate, and initially it was very frustrating. I did eventually find that just waiting was often all it took for the words to come.

I agree with this thesis 100%. And you have become of of my favorite posters here. Your fountain of available content is both impressive and intimidating. The world is better for having you in it.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2018, 11:59:02 pm by Hoopla! »
“Soon all of us will have special names” — Professor Brian O’Blivion

"Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns." — Bob Dylan?

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes" — Walt Whitman

Ziegejunge

  • Suffers from occasional lucid moments
  • Outlandish
  • ***
  • Posts: 4181
  • Bitten by a radioactive SPAG
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2018, 11:55:20 pm »
Words!

One of the highlights in my life was learning the words "dermatophagia" and "dermatillomania." Prior to that, my belief was that I was simply crazy, or cursed, or broken, or something. All of a sudden, I understood that enough other people had the same problem(s) that there were words for them. The words helped me separate myself from these problems, whereas prior I felt they were an integral component of my self.

All of a sudden, the metaphor about having (some) power over a demon once you learned its name made sense.

Then I shared my finding with my GP, whose response was "Dermatophagia? That's just Latin for 'skin-eating!' That's not a real medical thing." First of all, asshole, Google tells me it's Greek; second, can we maybe abstain from playing the semantics game long enough to talk about the flaw in my brain that decides my fingers are made of KFC every now and again? Kthx.

Did learning new words fix my problem(s)? No. Did it help foster a very different understanding of my life, the world, and my place in it? Absolutely. Has my new GP mentioned it to me even once in the past two years, despite "nail-biting" being on my medical record? Not a peep.

Funny how words work (or get worked over) sometimes.

Q. G. Pennyworth

  • Slimy Thing Who
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 86070
  • QUEEN BITCH OF FLYERS
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2018, 12:03:34 am »
Yes, yes, yes. This is something I have been grappling with in my therapy. I had no ifea I had so many feelings which were almost impossible to articulate, and initially it was very frustrating. I did eventually find that just waiting was often all it took for the words to come.

A willingness to use the wrong words, or to use entirely too many words, is really important for that shit. A lot of my work in the last couple years has been on nailing my dissociative shit to the wall, which is a huge challenge because there isn't a lot of good vocab in common usage for it, and even the clinical stuff is a poor fit for most folks' lived experiences. Turns out mentally checking out is as common and as healthy a coping mechanism as being anxious or depressed (that is to say, it has its uses but can get out of hand if you don't keep an eye on it) and has the same kind of severity scale. Only, we have good understanding that there's a difference between "I'm sad today" and "I've been sad for a month" and "I literally cannot get myself out of bed to piss" while when it comes to mental disconnects we assume there's nothing between "perfectly integrated" and "Sybil." But as usual reality is more complicated than that, and most shit that happens in brains doesn't happen in binary. So I've been sitting here, talking with someone who's got a good head on her shoulders and can pull me back if I get close to any dangerous ledges, trying to map out what my brain is doing and whether any good can come from it. And it's been doing me a lot of good, but I keep finding myself stymied by vocabulary problems, and I keep thinking about what my obligation is to other crazy people. I know most people hate Catcher in the Rye, but there was one line in it to the effect of "you have the ability to communicate, you want to save people, the best thing you can do is go down this path and write shit down for the next person."
Overheating Pheremone Pustule of Last Saturday's Jiggle Fun| _xgeWireToEvent: Unknown extension 131, this should never happen.

Don't fucking judge me, I've got tentacles for a face.

nullified

  • Known & Noted
  • **
  • Posts: 1772
  • SPAG
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2018, 02:50:41 am »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

Q. G. Pennyworth

  • Slimy Thing Who
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 86070
  • QUEEN BITCH OF FLYERS
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2018, 03:05:34 am »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

I'm glad it's working for folks. It's hard because the forum just isn't as active as it used to be, and I have to remember not to take it personally that there aren't 80 replies an hour lol.

I have one more bouncing around, then I think I can come back and refine a couple of these. I know I don't always incorporate other people's riffs into final versions, but if folks have them I'm eager to read!
Overheating Pheremone Pustule of Last Saturday's Jiggle Fun| _xgeWireToEvent: Unknown extension 131, this should never happen.

Don't fucking judge me, I've got tentacles for a face.

axod

  • Don Well-Buttern' Cracker Crasher, Infernal Affairs
  • Outlandish
  • ***
  • Posts: 6830
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2018, 03:21:36 am »
really enjoying this and other recent threads!
just this

Hoopla!

  • gives people the beeps, and most certainly
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 30639
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2018, 03:23:21 am »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

I'm glad it's working for folks. It's hard because the forum just isn't as active as it used to be, and I have to remember not to take it personally that there aren't 80 replies an hour lol.

I have one more bouncing around, then I think I can come back and refine a couple of these. I know I don't always incorporate other people's riffs into final versions, but if folks have them I'm eager to read!

This, funnily enough, is not a problem for me. The average post I make gets approximately the same amount of responses as when we had 200+ users.  :lol:
“Soon all of us will have special names” — Professor Brian O’Blivion

"Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns." — Bob Dylan?

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes" — Walt Whitman

Doktor Howl

  • Вся ваша база принадлежит нам
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 410774
  • Horrible Bastard
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2018, 03:26:07 am »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

I'm glad it's working for folks. It's hard because the forum just isn't as active as it used to be, and I have to remember not to take it personally that there aren't 80 replies an hour lol.

I have one more bouncing around, then I think I can come back and refine a couple of these. I know I don't always incorporate other people's riffs into final versions, but if folks have them I'm eager to read!

I feel your pain. 
Well, that's hardly my fault.  I was just doing what I do, doing my little dance, singing my little song, you know?  And then Hirley0 got on the dance floor and said

SHAKE THAT
First ^  Then V

And I did.  I didn't feel like I had any choice.  Between P-Funk and Hirley0, I became the man reptillian menace I am today.

Bootsy Collins did this to me.

Doktor Howl

  • Вся ваша база принадлежит нам
  • One-Armed Jizz Moppers
  • Deserved It
  • **
  • Posts: 410774
  • Horrible Bastard
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2018, 03:26:48 am »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

I'm glad it's working for folks. It's hard because the forum just isn't as active as it used to be, and I have to remember not to take it personally that there aren't 80 replies an hour lol.

I have one more bouncing around, then I think I can come back and refine a couple of these. I know I don't always incorporate other people's riffs into final versions, but if folks have them I'm eager to read!

This, funnily enough, is not a problem for me. The average post I make gets approximately the same amount of responses as when we had 200+ users.  :lol:

But people sense your malevolence.  Like water buffalo bolting from a tiger.
Well, that's hardly my fault.  I was just doing what I do, doing my little dance, singing my little song, you know?  And then Hirley0 got on the dance floor and said

SHAKE THAT
First ^  Then V

And I did.  I didn't feel like I had any choice.  Between P-Funk and Hirley0, I became the man reptillian menace I am today.

Bootsy Collins did this to me.

Hoopla!

  • gives people the beeps, and most certainly
  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 30639
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2018, 01:22:06 pm »
You’ve been pumping out the good shit lately. This is no exception.

I can’t wait to see what’s next, it’s been consistently on point and excellent reading.

Your last reply is awesome bonus material if you end up doing things with this one, BTW.

I'm glad it's working for folks. It's hard because the forum just isn't as active as it used to be, and I have to remember not to take it personally that there aren't 80 replies an hour lol.

I have one more bouncing around, then I think I can come back and refine a couple of these. I know I don't always incorporate other people's riffs into final versions, but if folks have them I'm eager to read!

This, funnily enough, is not a problem for me. The average post I make gets approximately the same amount of responses as when we had 200+ users.  :lol:

But people sense your malevolence.  Like water buffalo bolting from a tiger.

I try not to smile. 
“Soon all of us will have special names” — Professor Brian O’Blivion

"Now's not the time to get silly, so wear your big boots and jump on the garbage clowns." — Bob Dylan?

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes" — Walt Whitman

chaotic neutral observer

  • An entirely Normal Person, who is Definitely not
  • Outlandish
  • ***
  • Posts: 3546
  • not a real discordian
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2018, 02:31:59 am »
On the subject of learning languages, an analogy I heard once is that human ideas, experiences, and concepts, are like a piece of paper, and words are circles that a language draws on that paper.  Different languages can draw circles in different places, so the meanings of words don't always line up, or can overlap.  For example, the circle for the Japanese color "ao" would overlap with the English circles for "blue" and "green".*  However, the underlying paper is the same, regardless of where you draw the circles.  A Japanese person would still recognize blue and green as different shades, much like I could probably recognize the difference between azure and cerulean if I gave a crap about that sort of thing.

Young children start out with "less paper", and while learning to speak, have to extend that paper at the same time as learning where the word-circles are drawn.  An adult already has the paper to work with, but might need to draw new circles when learning a new language.

However, the capacity of language to convey ideas is based on common experiences, and if someone's experience lies off the edge of another person's "paper", it can be difficult to communicate, whether we have words for it or not.

It is possible to progressively extend your paper through new experiences, education, or training.  For example, someone with no knowledge of addition has zero chance of even approaching the concept of Galois fields.  But you can work up to it, by starting with basic arithmetic, studying algebra, and then smashing your head into a brick wall for several days.

I guess what I'm saying, is that although expanding your vocabulary is important, it's also important to expand the range of concepts that you can think about, so that you know what to do with that new vocabulary.

*Yes, I know about "midori".   Shut up, weeb.
It took less than a week for this thread to go from “U.S. resistance politics” to “international spray cheese.”  --Brother Mythos

Cramulus

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 132086
    • View Profile
    • Cramul.us
Re: On Language
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2018, 12:39:15 pm »
Loving this thread! Reminding me of a chapter The Language Instinct where Pinker goes apeshit about e-prime.

The linguists Sapir and Whorf developed the language-determinism hypothesis based on sloppy evidence.

Whorf blamed language for lots of problems. For example, at a construction site, a worker threw a match into a trash can labeled “empty”, causing an explosion. The trashcan was actually filled with gasoline vapor. Whorf used this example in several papers to talk about how language determines our reality. But is this really language’s fault? A trash can filled with explosive vapor LOOKS empty, so isn’t this error more the fault of perception than language?

Whorf was fascinated by really poor translations of Apache language, which he assumed meant Apaches think about the universe in fundamentally different ways than we do. But he never actually talked to any Apaches, his assumptions about their psychology are based entirely on apache grammar - which makes the argument circular. To support his point, he relied on increasingly tortured translations of different languages. He said the English phrase “The boat is grounded on the beach” would be said in Apache as “It is on the beach pointwise as an event of canoe motion.” It’s definitely not like English! But it doesn’t follow that they have different thoughts. — other linguists have pointed out that Whorf’s translations are clumsy, word-for-word translations. Pinker writes, “Turning the tables, I could take the English sentence 'he walks’ and render it as as solitary masculinity, leggedness proceeds.’”

Whorf also thought that the Hopi language didn’t have tense, and therefore Hopi had a different perception of time. But that’s just straight up wrong, and nobody knows where he got the idea.

Let’s move onto empirical evidence – there have been 35+ years of research on the Whorfian hypothesis. The studies which support are for the most part, pretty weak. In one experiment, subjects are shown colored paint chips. In followup memory tests, subjects seem to have an easier time remembering paint chips which have names in their language. But they also remember colors without names – so the experiment does not show that colors are remembered by verbal labels alone. All it shows is that people remembered the chips in two forms (visual image and verbal label), and that the visual memory is more fallible. Not really surprising. Pinker writes, “Language is, technically speaking, influencing a form of thought in some way, but so what? It is hardly an example of incommensurable world views, or of dissecting nature along lines laid down by our native language according to terms that are absolutely obligatory.”

Alfred Bloom’s book “The Linguistic Shaping of Thought” tried another experiment - he gave Chinese and American students a passage to read, then tested them on it. The passage relied heavily on the subjunctive-clause, which is absent in Chinese. On followup tests, American students got 98% right, Chinese students got only 7% right. Bloom concluded that the Chinese language renders its speakers unable to entertain hypothetical false worlds without great mental effort. A cavalry of cognitive scientists disagreed with these tales of the concreteness of the Oriental mind. They pointed out numerous problems in the experiments, like that the Chinese translations of the passage were really bad, and at times genuinely ambiguous. When these flaws were fixed in subsequent experiments, the differences vanished.

rong

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 16076
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2018, 05:31:13 pm »
"he was a smart feller who felt smart"

Pergamos

  • Deserved It
  • ****
  • Posts: 17045
  • Did it for the cookies.
    • View Profile
Re: On Language
« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2018, 06:13:25 am »

Alfred Bloom’s book “The Linguistic Shaping of Thought” tried another experiment - he gave Chinese and American students a passage to read, then tested them on it. The passage relied heavily on the subjunctive-clause, which is absent in Chinese. On followup tests, American students got 98% right, Chinese students got only 7% right. Bloom concluded that the Chinese language renders its speakers unable to entertain hypothetical false worlds without great mental effort. A cavalry of cognitive scientists disagreed with these tales of the concreteness of the Oriental mind. They pointed out numerous problems in the experiments, like that the Chinese translations of the passage were really bad, and at times genuinely ambiguous. When these flaws were fixed in subsequent experiments, the differences vanished.

This seems like an obviously flawed experiment.  "lets see how these students do at understanding something absent in their language, and use their language to test that"  um, obviously it isn't going to work.