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#99720 - 03/30/03 07:56 PM from fastidious to evangelical
AnnaStrophic Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 6511
Loc: lower upstate New York
Faldage and I will be out of pocket for a while, but I wanted to leave this think-piece to come back to.

When I was growing up, it used to bother me no end that the impressionistic painting of life I was experiencing was systematically hived into little boxes, for greater understanding, by my parents and my teachers. I clearly remember being synæsthetic then; by the time I was 10 that was gone.

In college, as I made my way through linguistic theory, I was struck by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the very idea that the words we use could influence our perceptions. At the same time, I was grappling with brand-name religion, yet another (to my mind) way of categorizing phenomena to make them easier to deal with. (sorry, I don't mean this to be a religion thread!! Just another example of how we understand life)

I've come to accept that categories and patterns can be good, useful things. So now I'm wondering: wordminstrel has classified Faldage as both a fastidious and as an evangelical grammarian, thereby (to my mind) neatly compartmentalizing him into a single, one-dimensional, easy-to-understand box.

Wordminstrel, do you have such sobriquets for any of the rest of us? And does this help with understanding?

Anyone else like to comment on this apparent need of ours to compartmentalize?

#99721 - 03/31/03 02:17 PM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
of troy Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/17/00
Posts: 5400
Loc: rego park
interesting point Anna..

humans, tend to place things in catagories... nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs.... even thought some words can fit into every catagory (i think of the t shirt explaining how the word F*** or Sh*t, can be any one of these parts of speech, but many common words can be one or more parts of speech)

we catorgories ourselves too, (male/female, husband/wife, single/married, young/old, conservative/liberal, and any other number of ways... and sometimes, by doing so, we effect our personality.

i used to be, stealing a line from dicken's, "a mere child". i had married young, and had children young, and more over, had married a man 7 years my senior (a big gap at age 18!)who also had many friend 7 to 20 years older than him. so i was always the youngest person in our 'set'.

at some point, i realised my tag line, "i am but a mere child" was one i used to absolve myself of responsiblity. i stoppped using it, and that was part of my process of "growing up"...

(My ex-husband, used and still uses occationaly, the cute line, "Don't try to confuse me with the facts, i have already made up my mind." --it remains one of the lines i hate!)

these little tag lines, expressions, that we use at points in our life, can be self defining. and while we use them, while we define ourselves with them, they do define us change the words, and thing change....

My former father in law was self conscious about losing his hair... but one day, (in the late 1950's) Don Ameiche (not sure of the spelling of his name) arrived in the neighborhood of their summer home, by helicopter... as he stepped off the 'copter, the strong down winds, mussed up his thick wavy hair.. his daugter, (a child at the time,) looked up to her father and said, "that would never happen to you daddy, you always look neat, you even have a neat head" -- her comment changed Frank's veiw-- he wasn't balding, but neat, right down to his head, and his didn't have thick unrully hair that would get blown about in the wind...her words let him see his baldness in a new way, and the new view was a more possitive one, one he could accept, (even if he didn't cherise) and his baldness bothered him less.

Word minstral comments reflect a perseption of Faldage... and words are very powerful. The don't really effect Faldage unless he takes them to heart, and lets them.

it is interesting that we have two adages about words and their power...

"sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never harm me..."
"The pen is a mighter septer than the sword."

both are true...

i think this idea could be a wonderful thread, a wonderful way to explore how words compartmentalize, or liberate us.

my other obsession

#99722 - 03/31/03 06:03 PM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Helen, it's nice to see you here again. A thoughtful post, as always. :-)

Anna, I had to look up synesthesia--still not certain how it relates to compartmentalizing, but--and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, too, in Atomica: A hypothesis holding that the structure of a language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers and thus influences their thought patterns and worldviews.

[After Edward SAPIR and Benjamin Lee WHORF.]

We were (and are, I guess) certainly different people. I wanted everything in life to be compartmentalized, black and white. Still do, as a matter of fact, though I've learned better. (I've noticed the same trait in my daughter; my son, like his daddy, is more of a "whatever" type of person). I am trying to learn to quit struggling against the fact that the world is the way it is and not like I'd like it to be (thanks, muchly, to my very good friend CK for helping me along in this--you're a master).

I've mentioned before, I think, the strong tendency of us humans to put things into patterns that we recognize. Possibly due to our innate fear of the unknown?

I wish I knew more about what the theory means when it says: "...the structure of a language affects the perceptions of reality of its speakers...". Structure of a language sounds to me like grammar. I'm short on time just now, but I may look up more on the theory later, if no one has enlightened me by the time I get back. For now I'll say that I can't see grammar influencing my reality. If I say it was a good book or a book good, I still thought it was good. In one of the Anne of Green Gables books, her friend quotes, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", and Anne replies something like, Oh, no--I'm sure if it was called a skunk cabbage it wouldn't smell as sweet.

Thank you very much for starting this thread! I was just thinking yesterday that word play is all well and good, but I am ready for some meat! It's been too long since we've had a good discussion.

#99723 - 03/31/03 10:41 PM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
tsuwm Offline
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Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10532
Loc: this too shall pass
a one-sentence summation of Sapir-Whorf isn't going to do you much good. here's a pretty good overview of Sapir-Whorf and the antithesis:

to me, what's meant by "structure of a language" isn't grammar but more along the lines of patterns of interpretation. here's another statement one could debate: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis advocates that language has the power to dictate man's world view in a tyrannical way.

#99724 - 04/01/03 02:18 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
Capfka Offline

Registered: 06/28/02
Posts: 1624
Loc: Utter Placebo, Planet Reebok
First of all, I'm not sure that a Klingon's view of linguistics has much validity unless the language under review consists primarily of words describing war, weapons, death, veangence, revenge and personal honour. The structure of such a language would also have to facilitate an easy juxtaposition of the words within sentence structures in such a way as to make the subtle nuances of meaning unambiguous to all within the culture. Of course, it wouldn't matter to beings not steeped in the culture; the Klingons just kill them anyway.

- Pfranz

#99725 - 04/01/03 02:44 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
Wordwind Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 6296
Loc: Piedmont Region of Virginia, U...
Thanks, tsuwm, for the link.

Yes, those compartments do help us order thought--and do help us understand each other better if we're trying to understand each other. And I welcome those times that someone has provided insight so that I could break a compartment down and throw it away to make room for a new one that did the job better. If we want to grow in understanding, don't we beg to have our fondest theories challenged and proven to be incorrect?

Language is, at least, convenient. It works; gets the job of communication done in many, perhaps countless, instances.

But not all. The biggest problem I see in restricting our comprehension to language is that omission of the emotional response--that response that is nearly entirely unrelated to language. I'm not talking about emotional response to anything that involves language, such as poetry or the evening news, but emotional response to life itself beyond words. Spring is here. Dead would be the heart that cannot respond to its unfolding. Yesterday I was downtown Richmond, walking by the enormous equestrian monument of General Robert E. Lee, and passed a man with electric clippers clipping away at boxwoods. The smell of wet grass hit me full force in the warm air, and I felt like bursting into tears, the greenness of the scent so overcame me with pure pleasure. The experience was immediately emotional and unrelated to language. In describing the experience to you, I take you into the event by setting the scene. I use language to take you there so you'll understand where I was and what was going on when the scent of wet grass hit me. But my language had nothing to do with my strong emotional response. It was simply the grass and the scent and my receptivity at that moment to the scent.

My experience--who I am and how I build language--has one wing eternally flapping in the Emotional; the other flaps in the Intuitive. I wonder how Sapir and Whorf accounted for the emotions and intuition having forceful influences in making us who we are?

#99726 - 04/01/03 06:30 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
Capfka Offline

Registered: 06/28/02
Posts: 1624
Loc: Utter Placebo, Planet Reebok
I think that the base argument - Popper's view vs Whorf's - is about as easily resolved as nature vs nurture or whether ontogeny really does recapitulate phylogeny.

I'm pretty sure there's a link between the language one speaks and the way (the order) in which one thinks. I believe that one of the reasons why native English speakers (i.e. people whose first language is English) are so direct is that in English the verb is always closely associated with its subject and is never far removed from the object, either. The order is usually subject - verb- object, so we are used to saying that "Jack loves Jill". If we spoke in other languages the options might be "Jill Jack loves" or even "loves Jill Jack". The English approach has obviously arisen from pragmatism. Assuming that Romance languages and English are pretty similar in this respect, the same would be true of most southern European and some eastern European language speakers.

Languages such as German, where word order is often paramount such as in the usage of the future tense, must impose a different mode of thinking on people who use those languages. I don't know and can't pretend to guess exactly in what way it would be different, but maybe Wsieber can tell us if I'm right or not.

Languages which have evolved different forms for different purposes - high Mandarin or the Japanese "kudasai" forms come to mind here - would seem to have a whole mindset behind them.

The inexactness of language is a barrier, of course. You can describe something very exactly - "A hill that is 100 feet high, with a house halfway up it with white wooden walls and a red roof, with a field of wheat stretching down to the road from the house, and with trees with bright green foliage on the crest". This is a pretty full description as these things go. But any two people will interpret the description differently, and will add and subtract from the picture mentally derived from the words based on the individual's past experience and future expectations. Word pictures, even between fluent speakers of the same language, are at worst surreal and at best impressionistic. But between speakers of two different languages they may well be best described as minimalist abstract representations. Each of the terms in the sentence above may have a completely different "meaning" in each of the languages the description is translated into.

My tuppence worth, anyway!

- Pfranz

#99727 - 04/01/03 08:00 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
wsieber Offline
old hand

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1027
Loc: Switzerland
I'm also quite addicted to this subject. At once it reminded me of a thread I started in the distant past

#99728 - 04/01/03 08:59 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
dxb Offline

Registered: 03/06/02
Posts: 1692
Loc: UK
There is a well known danger in compartmentalising that can be expressed as:

“Categorise it (or him/her), label it and put it on the shelf – oh yes, here comes another one, I know all about those, stick it with the first.”

The entity becomes the label, and the danger is the label never changes because we use the label as an identifier that means we no longer have to think about the entity in a qualitative or analytical way. We’ve done that already. The label identifies certain attributes but may prevent us seeing any others that are present. An example of this kind of trap might be:

“He’s a communist, indict him.” “OK Senator, but he’s also a talented musician, what specific threat does he represent to us?” “Doesn’t matter, the label says communist.”

There is, using Anna’s words, the danger of “neatly compartmentalizing him into a single, one-dimensional, easy-to-understand box.”

A label as a short hand way of defining a set of characteristics is fine and helps us communicate faster and more efficiently but only so long as it defines the characteristics and not the entity. I think.

#99729 - 04/01/03 09:00 AM Re: from fastidious to evangelical
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Oh, that was fun, reading that again, wsieber! An innocent question about the front of the neck (which was never definitively answered, by the way) went into strangling, garroting, and vampires! We haven't changed!

The entity becomes the label, and the danger is the label never changes because we use the label as an identifier that means we no longer have to think about the entity in a qualitative or analytical way. We’ve done that already. The label identifies certain attributes but may prevent us seeing any others that are present.
Exactly, dxb. Way back when I did my undergraduate field placement, I was sent a time or two to the day care for retarded children. I suppose one of the purposes of the placement was fulfilled, because as I told the director, I learned that they (the retarded "they") have personalities, needs, and wants, just like "we" do. (Before anyone condemns me for not realizing that earlier, please keep in mind that I was 20 at the time.) And going even further back, I read a book that told the story of a young boy's going blind, and his journey into adulthood and independence. He went into a store one time, and wrote that he could tell the clerk was someone who thought of him as a person who couldn't see, not as a blind person. He put that, when blind comes first, it kind of sets up a fence around person.

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