Learning numbers in a European language has probably affected your early maths ability. It turns out there are better ways to count.
So even though we might all be using the same numbers, the words we use may influence how we think about them. They say maths is a universal language, but perhaps that’s not true after all.
Interesting article connecting the issue of language and climate change. This also gets at the fact that we don’t always communicate what we think we are and that different groups of people communicate differently. Frank Luntz, discussed below, often uses the adage: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
The science community is supposed to interpret for the rest of us, but its dialect does not always pack rhetorical oomph. “I didn’t realize that pointing to a climate graph I think is the Rosetta stone — people don’t see it the way I see it,” says Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We as humans don’t experience an exponential curve viscerally, in our gut.”
More on Luntz
Frank Luntz is a popular American pollster but also famous for helping the Republican Party hone its messaging and use of language in the 1990s and 2000s. He authored a famous memo on messaging the “War on Terror.” One can argue with the ethics of what he did (intentionally tying 9/11 and Iraq in people’s minds without ever explicitly making the connection for example) but his work was devastatingly effective. This memo made for much better discussion teaching TOK 10 years ago but I think is very interesting to still study.
Download Luntz Memo On Terrorism
Here is Luntz being challenged about another famous memo he wrote on climate change. He has since changed his mind.
Image of Luntz now discussing messaging on discussing climate change.
This podcast thoroughly explores and discusses this important question. John McWhorter’s work here is very well researched and very current in the way he addresses more current news articles and studies about this question.
Here is another article that spells it out very well from the Linguistic Society of America.
Here are other resources tagged Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever.
I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.
“A lot of common terms may seem ‘neutral’ but reinforce racism. A teacher’s textbook case.”
Wilderness? Permanent? More loaded terms
“Wilderness” is another problematic term. It implies a place that humans neither modify nor call home. So when we attempt to convey respect for Indigenous knowledge with sentences like “Indigenous people were highly skilled at navigating and surviving in the “wilderness,” we present an oxymoron. Were Indigenous peoples other than human? If it is wilderness, how can people inhabit it? Allowing this paradox to stand sustains questions that should long ago have been taken off life support, but that retain vibrancy in powerful arenas, not the least of which include our courts: Were these “organized societies” living in the wilderness? Did these people have “exclusive use and occupation” of the wilderness? The absurdity of these questions comes clear when we jettison “wilderness” for more appropriate language, something like “homeland” or better yet, the people’s own term, the hahuułni of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Haa Aani among the Tlingit, or Anishinaabe akiiing. Kimmerer tells us, “When we call a place by its name it is transformed from wilderness to homeland.”
A series of articles on the fire at the national museum in Brazil. Raises questions about the role of material culture in studying the past but also of the concept of “national memory.” Further, there were recordings of languages that are no longer spoken that were destroyed. Does the loss of a language represent a loss of knowledge? A knowledge system? Fascinating questions raised by this incident that speak to the volume of loss.
The losses are “incalculable to Brazil,” said Michel Temer, the country’s president, on Twitter. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”
Marina Silva, a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections, described the fire as “a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”
BRAZIL’S MUSEUM FIRE PROVES CULTURAL MEMORY NEEDS A DIGITAL BACKUP
It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And it underscores that the academic community has not yet fully embraced the importance of archiving importance of archiving—not just in Brazil, but around the world.
In this 99 percent invisible podcast and accompanying article, the challenges of communicating the hazards of materials that will be radioactive for the next 10,000 years are discussed. This is an interesting exercise in thinking about how to communicate the the most “universal” way possible.
This WIPP site is going to be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, though this panel was only responsible for keeping this place sufficiently marked for humans for the next 10,000 years—thinking beyond that timeframe was thought to be impossible.
Though 10,000 years in the future is still fairly inconceivable. 10,000 years ago, the biggest new technology spreading across the planet was farming. Culturally, we share almost nothing with people alive back then. Who knows the world will look like 10,000 years from now?
The panel began by thinking about language. But language, like radioactive materials, has a half life. Beowulf, from only 1,000 years ago, is incomprehensible today.
The panel also considered symbols, which seemed like they might be more universal. A smiley face seems to have a global appeal. And face logos have already been used as warnings.