Language is an important method of transmitting knowledge – it is the primary mode of communication, which is used in order to give or receive knowledge. For the purpose of this essay, language will be defined as an agreed method of communication that is either spoken or written, or intentionally transmitted through body language. The word “control”, in the statement above will be treated in the sense of “to regulate” or “to govern”. The statement means that perception, emotion and reason cannot function independently from language.
Language plays an integral role in their ability to function.
The statement suggests that without language, we would not be able to become aware of something using the senses, we would not be able to experience and express emotion, and we would not be able to reason. To investigate the relationship between language and the other ways of knowing, I will explore the following knowledge issues. What is the relationship between language and perception and can perception function independently from language? What is the relationship between language and emotion and can emotion function independently from language?
What is the relationship between language and reason and can reason function independently from language? Do different languages affect the ways of knowing differently? What is the overall relationship between the ways of knowing? I will examine how each of the other ways of knowing are controlled by language and give counterclaims for how they are not controlled by language.
I will also explain my view of the relationship between perception, emotion, reason and language.
Firstly, I will explore the relationship between language and perception.
Guy Deutscher gives a claim that supports the idea that language controls perception in his book, “Through the Language Glass” (Bellos, 2010). He claims that the colours people see are limited by their language. An example given is of the ancient Greek poet, Homer, who describes the sea and oxen both as the same colour, which he describes as “wine-looking”. Another supporting claim to this idea that I have come across is the marketing slogan of the breakfast cereal, Rice Krispies (Kellogg, 2008). The marketing tagline is based on the onomatopoeic noises produced when milk is added to the cereal. In English, the tagline is “Snap! Crackle! Pop! . In Swedish, it is “Piff! Paff! Puff! ”. In German, it is “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! ”. In Mexican, it is “Pim! Pum! Pam! ”. In Finnish, it is “Poks! Riks! Raks! ”. In Canadian French, it is “Cric! Crac! Croc! ”. In Dutch, it is “Pif! Paf! Pof! ”. Finally, in Afrikaans, it is “Knap! Knaetter! Knak! ”. This is an example of affecting the ways of knowing differently. It is quite interesting to note how the way in which the sound is marketed varies according to language, but the actually sound is always the same! This suggests that language controls perception. A counterclaim to the idea that language controls perception is seen in babies.
Babies do not have the ability of language, but they are still able to feel pain, for example when teething, and demonstrate it by crying. We may not know why they are crying because they cannot express it to us, but they are still able to experience the pain. Just because you cannot explain it, does not mean you cannot perceive it. For example, assume that your language does not have any word to describe the weather. Does this mean that you are unable to feel cold? Even though humans may interpret and express what they perceive differently, the actual perception is still the same.
Therefore, to an extent, perception functions independently from language. You might have difficulty in interpreting and expressing the perception, but language does not affect your ability to actually perceive things. Next, I will explore the relationship between language and emotion. An example that I have noticed of language controlling emotion is while learning Spanish. I have just begun to learn Spanish about five months ago. One of the first things I learned in Spanish was that there are two different pronouns for the word you. Firstly, there is the casual you, “tu” and the respectful you, “usted”.
This is quite interesting because it may be possible that using these two words when speaking with two different people might affect our emotions toward them. For example, if I am speaking to someone on the football pitch and refer to him or her as tu, I would feel more relaxed and even lack respect to him or her. On the other hand, if I was speaking to my Spanish teacher I would refer to him as usted, and I would feel more respectful toward him. Another example of this that I – being a speaker of both English and Hindi, have noticed is the word “sukhi”, for which the closest English translation is “peaceful”.
However, the most appropriate word for “peaceful” in Hindi is “shanti”. “Sukhi” is being peaceful, but on a much larger scale – something that cannot be expressed accurately in English. Perhaps – I am only hypothesizing, this is due to the fact that Indian culture is generally more spiritual, and therefore they have a word for being completely at peace with everything. Whatever the case, it would be very difficult for someone who only speaks English to know how I am feeling. These are both examples of different languages affecting the ways of knowing differently?
A much more simple example of this is seen in everyday communication. The same intention, communicated in two different ways, can result in a completely different emotional reaction. For example, a teacher simply writing a comment saying an essay was bad can result in the student feeling much worse about themselves than a teacher saying the student has room for improvement. A counterclaim to the idea that language controls emotion is that emotion is a natural thing – without language you might not be able to verbally express emotion, but you can definitely feel the basic emotions of being happy, sad and angry.
Despite that, however, it may be slightly harder to classify your anger into annoyance, displeasure, disgust, envy, hatred or hostility, rage or suffering without actually having these words. Therefore, to an extent, emotion functions independently from language. Language enhances emotion, and a lack of language limits our abilities to feel certain complex emotions, but language does not actually control emotion. Finally, I will explore the relationship between language and reason.
I have noticed that when I eat breakfast in the morning, I have more energy throughout the day, and when I do not eat breakfast, I feel weak and hungry throughout the day. From my past experiences, I have come to the conclusion that it is better to eat a breakfast every morning. It is quite impossible to think along this path of reasoning without using language. Unlike perceptions and emotions, which are natural phenomenon that do not need any input from the knower, reason requires an actively observing and thinking human being.
This suggests that language does, in fact, control reason. However, a counterclaim to this idea is that it is still possible to reason without using language. In a performance of the play, “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller last year, the main character, John Proctor, a Christian is imprisoned after being wrongly accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. He has to make a decision to frame an innocent person to save his own life, or to not say anything and be hanged. The character does not use language, but rather uses emotion to reason his decision.
In the end he decides that he would rather die a clean man and go to heaven than become a sinner and go to hell. Reason can also function independently from language, but to a very limited extent. After exploring the relationship between language and perception, language and emotion and language and reason, I have come to the conclusion that although language plays a large role in enhancing the other ways of knowing, it is not as influential over them as the statement claims. Therefore, I do not think it is a fair representation of the relationship between perception, emotion, reason and language.
The statement has got the right idea, but is very extreme – language affects the other ways of knowing, but does not “control” them. The statement also fails to acknowledge that the relationship between language and the other ways of knowing work both ways (i. e. the ways of knowing influence each other). As for the overall relationship, I believe that the four ways of knowing are all interdependent to each other (Appendix 1), and removing any one would affect the others’ abilities to function, but no way of knowing controls another.
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