Reason, and Emotion
Language is so much a part
of human activity that it is easily taken for granted. The issues related to
language and knowledge call for conscious scrutiny in order to recognize its
influence on thought and behavior.
Nature of Language
- How have spoken sounds
acquired meaning? What is the nature of the connection between the sounds
and what they are taken to represent?
- Is it possible to think
without language? How does language extend, direct, or even limit thinking?
- To what extent does
language generalize individual experience, classifying it within the
experience of the group? To what extent does a personal experience elude
expression in language?
- Can language be compared
with other human forms of symbolic representation, such as conventionalized
gestures, sign language for the deaf, dance, painting, music or mathematics?
What might language share with these other forms in the communication of
what we know? In what ways might it be considered distinct?
- To what extent is
knowledge implicit in language? For example, could it be said that 'Saturday
is in bed' does not convey meaning, even though the sentence is
syntactically correct, because of the prior knowledge that days of the week
are not physical objects?
- How do computer
languages compare with the conventional written and spoken languages of
Language and Knowledge
- How does the capacity to
communicate personal experiences and thoughts through language affect
knowledge? To what extent does knowledge actually depend on language: on the
transmission of concepts from one person or generation to another, and on
exposure of concepts or claims to public scrutiny?
- How does language come
to be known? Is the capacity to acquire language innate?
- If knowledge is based on
an internal representation of the world does this imply that language is a
necessary component of knowledge?
- In most of the
statements heard, spoken, read or written, facts are blended with values.
How can an examination of language distinguish the subjective biases and
values which factual reports may contain? Why might such an examination be
- How apt is Voltaire's
view that 'Error flies from mouth to mouth, from pen to pen, and to destroy
it takes ages'?
Functions of Language
- What different functions
does language perform? Which are most relevant in creating and communicating
- What did Aldous Huxley
mean when he observed that 'Words form the thread on which we string our
- In what ways does
written language differ from spoken language in its relationship to
knowledge? Can control of written language create or reinforce power?
- Is it reasonable to
argue for preservation of established forms of language? Is it reasonable to
ask for one language common to the whole world?
- What is the role of
language in creating and reinforcing social distinctions, such as class,
ethnicity and gender?
- What is the role of
language in sustaining relationships of authority? Do people speak the same
way to inferiors and superiors in a hierarchy? Does the professional
authority speak in the same way as the person seeking opinion or advice?
- What may have been meant
by the comment 'How strangely do we diminish a thing as soon as we try to
express it in words'? (Maurice Maeterlinck)
Language and Culture
- If people speak more
than one language, is what they know different in each language? Does each
language provide a different framework for reality?
- How is the meaning of
what is said affected by silences and omissions, pace, tone of voice and
bodily movement? How might these factors be influenced in turn by the social
or cultural context?
- What is lost in
translation from one language to another? Why?
- To what degree might
different languages shape in their speakers different concepts of themselves
and the world? What are the implications of such differences for knowledge?
- In completing the
sentence, 'I know that . . .', one is making a knowledge claim. Why is it
useful or necessary to express knowledge claims? Are there Areas of
Knowledge where it is expected or required? Are there Ways of Knowing where
it is not?
- To what extent is it
possible to overcome ambiguity and vagueness in language? In what contexts
might ambiguity either impede knowledge or contribute to it? Does the
balance between precision and ambiguity alter from one discipline to