There are over 7000 living languages on earth today. These mutually unintelligible means of communication are closely associated with different groups’ identities. But how does a new language start out? That’s what listener BK wants to know. BK lives on one of the islands of the Philippines, where he speaks three languages fluently and has noticed there is a different language on almost every island.
Presenter Anand Jagatia finds language experts from around the world who tell him about the many different ways that languages can form.
Interesting post about the nature of language and how it can misconstrue a complex reality and ultimately lead to misunderstandings and poor policy actions by governments.
Muddled thinkers confuse the world of our senses with the way in which it is depicted in language.
Yet as is true of all beneficial institutions, language is imperfect – it has, some might say, its ‘costs.’ Among the ‘costs’ of language is its tendency to cause us to suppose that the abstractions that we describe with words possess a concrete reality that these abstractions don’t possess. 🔥🔥🔥 [flames are my addition]
Interesting story that raises many interesting questions about ethics and responsibility. What is the responsibility of the institution vs. individual? How do we decide what is ethical? The article describes a level of abstraction and jargon that happens in the company that belies the very human cost of its actions. Further, how do our actions change when we don’t directly deal with the human face/cost of our actions?
People at Capital One are extremely friendly. But one striking fact of life there was how rarely anyone acknowledged the suffering of its customers. It’s no rhetorical exaggeration to say that the 3,000 white-collar workers at its headquarters are making good money off the backs of the poor. The conspiracy of silence that engulfed this bottom-line truth spoke volumes about how all of us at Capital One viewed our place in the world, and what we saw when we looked down from our glass tower.
Amid the daily office banter at Capital One, we hardly ever broached the essence of what we were doing. Instead, we discussed the “physics” of our work. Analysts would commonly say that “whiteboarding”—a gratifying exercise in gaming out equations on the whiteboard to figure out a better way to build a risk model or design an experiment—was the favorite part of their job. Hour-long conversations would oscillate between abstruse metaphors representing indebtedness and poverty, and an equally opaque jargon composed of math and finance-speak.
On the surface this ruling may seem silly. The smiley pictogram is internationally popular precisely because it’s simple for most people to understand, or so it seems superficially. One of the messages in question was supported with victory signs, champagne, a quilt of symbols that’s barely translatable but clearly positive. In fact, however, emoji in a legal context is very serious business.
Language interpretation is rarely simple upon close examination and lawyers can argue anything. Pictures give them a lot of room to do so.
Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman searched for 2016 cases in the US that dealt with emojis and emoticon and found about 80 judicial opinions that mentioned these.
He told The Recorder in May that he imagines that emoji interpretation issues will only get more common and could get very difficult. The images look different to each of us, and parties can have legitimately different understandings of an image used in an exchange.
Once Hatebase has the data, it is automatically sorted and annotated. These annotations can explain the multiple meanings of the terms used, for example, or their level of offensiveness. The resulting data can also be displayed in a dashboard to make it easier for city officials to visualize the problem.
Once enough data has been gathered (most likely in a few months’ time), the city will use Hatebase’s system to monitor trends in hate-speech usage across Chattanooga, and see if there are any patterns between the words used against particular groups and subsequent hate crimes. Often, violence against a particular group is preceded by an increase in dehumanizing, abusive language used against that group. The Sentinel Project has already used this sort of language monitoring successfully as an early warning system for armed ethnic conflict in Kenya, Uganda, Burma, and Iraq.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”