Saturday, January 14, 2012

Language Acts and Creates

I have wanted for some time now to get around to writing an explanation of the title of my blog. If you have read some of my posts, it may appear that I am, indeed, “radical.” However, my blog title is more of a linguistic argument, and I think the best place to start is with a series of posts about language. So I begin by asking, what is language?

The primary characteristics of language are:

1. Language is arbitrary (there is no reason why the letters “t-r-e-e” or the sound “tree” should relate to the object “tree”).

2. Language is more than words (gestures, tone of voice, and context are inseparable components)

3. One purpose of language is to facilitate communication (thus, if one has successfully communicated, one has successfully used language).

4. Language is not just referential (“pointing to” objects in the world), and it does more than merely communicate the things that are:

         a. Language indexes spatial, temporal, and social relationships (use of a dialect may indicate the ethnicity or social class of the speaker; forms of politeness and formality/informality often correspond to the closeness – or distance – of social relationships; use of derogatory terms may signify that a person is prejudiced; special cadences and ritualized speech often invoke particular contexts, such as court rooms, churches, campaign speeches, business meetings, etc; and the list could go on.)
          b. Language creates context and determines relationships (often a new level of closeness in a relationship is initiated by a change in how people speak to each other; one may “officially” begin a business meeting by transitioning from “small-talk” to ritualized meeting speech; a person can define and shape their own identify by the way in which they choose to speak; people who engage in small-talk are actively affirming that they have some sort of acquaintance with each other and are on good terms, etc.)
           c. Language always conveys a point of view. Language is often perceived as inherently neutral. The opposite is true. Language is never neutral. This will be the subject of my next post.

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