Thoughts on Language

“Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel faster or last longer” – Steven Pinker

One of the main factors that make us so different from animals is our use of language. Our unique ways of communication allows us to interact with other human beings on a level completely different from most organisms. Most animals (as far as we know) communicate through sounds, facial expressions, and other biological signals to convey a general message. The fact that we can eloquently communicate our ideas effectively is how we have become so successful in advancing our civilization.  Without language, ideas would not have spread as quickly, as far, or last as long as it does now. A concrete language has allowed faraway populations to unite with a common idea in mind. It’s quite amazing.

EMOTION: Does the way you describe something affect how you feel about it? What is the power of language? What roles do context, emotion, selection, emphasis, and word choice play in language?

Even if two words mean the same thing, they may have different connotations based on the sound or the way it’s used in popular language. Language is so strange in the fact that it’s constantly shifting and has basic concrete terms that can be used with other words to create a completely different meaning; for example, the oxymoron: “beautiful disaster. Personally, the connotation of beauty is something graceful, light (sometimes white), and/or something intricate/simplistic, while the connotation of disaster is something destructive, violent, black, and associated with grief and pain. The effect of these two words mashed together lightens the term, and gives a new meaning to the word “disaster.”

5. To what extent is your use of languages accompanied by images? Does every word conjur up an image or only some of them?

The main types of words that conjur up images in my mind are nouns and specific adjectives that describe how something physically feels or looks. On the other hand, abstract terms, verbs, emotions, and anything that isn’t concrete have no associated image.

8. Many jokes are based on ambuguity…can you give an example?

How do you make a turtle fast?
Take away his food.

10. Birds fly and planes fly. Since fish swim, why don’t we say that submarines also swim? What do submarines do? (propel)

I guess the reason why the verb “fly” can be applied to “planes” in the same manner it’s used for “birds” is because of the structure of the plane is similar to a bird’s when it’s flying: “wings” outstretched. It’s also interesting how the term “wings” is the same. Perhaps planes have a closer resemblance to birds than submarines do to fish. Submarines don’t “swim” through the water like fish do; rather they “propel” through it using a “propeller” from the back. When I think of swimming, I imagine fish or people using their fins or arms in a very active motion to get through the water. But with submarines, they’re not animate at all as they move through the water in a straight line. It’s clear that the motion of “propelling” is very mechanical, while “swimming” is mainly used for living things.   

11. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of everyone in the world spoke a common language? What would be gained and what would be lost?

If everyone in the world spoke a common language, it would be quite convenient for political affairs and businesses as there would not be any more worry of an “error in translation.” Social interactions would be much more interesting too as we could communicate effectively with people from all around the world. But then again, what good would that be when cultures would be lost as a result of this? Diverse language is a big component in culture as it is evidence of how the people from that specific area developed over time. Some cultures have vocabulary words for objects or ideas that aren’t even relevant in any other culture, so this change would definitely have a negative impact since these words would have to be erased in the “common language” if deemed irrelevant to the rest of the world.

15. Take 2 advertising slogans of your choice and explain why you think they are effective (or not)

“Just Do It” is an effective slogan by the sports company, Nike, since it tunes into the inner conscience that tries to motivate you to be more physically active.

The Mcdonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” slogan utilizes a similar method by tuning into the ideal person’s thoughts when they eat food from this restaurant ( Mcdonald’s fries and strawberry milkshakes are unfortunately a guilty pleasure of mine). It forms a preconceived notion of the quality of food served and may subconsciously — through the power of suggestion– influence the customer to like the food more.

19. Do you agree with the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”?

As trivial as name-calling may seem, it still has quite a long lasting effect that could be equally as impactful (or exceedingly) as physical pain. One’s mental health is just as vital as their physical health, and is unfortunately, not looked over often enough when it comes to bullying. It’s very easy to get hurt and form insecurities from the insults and nasty words spewed by bullies, regardless if it’s in person or online. This is especially so when these words bring attention to physical attributes that someone may already feel unconfident about. These words begin to haunt the victim and, in severe cases, drive them to the edge. No type of harassment, whether it’s physical or verbal, should be deemed as “minor “ comparatively, as they all have an equally dangerous potential to ruin lives.

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