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Language is a conventional code of symbols that allows a sender to formulate a message that can be understood by a receiver.

Symbol – a sign that stands for smth. else, like the national flag or the blindfolded lady with the sword and scales.

Natural signs: clouds that will cause the rain.

Artificial (social) signs: red traffic light: stop.

Language – convention: communication is only possible because symbols and the way they are put together have a shared meaning.

Human use of symbolism enables us sseparate the representation (word picture) from the reality it represents or refers to and to move from the specific and concrete to the general (“dog” refers to a category, not just Shurik) and the abstract (information, honour, process) – and therefore to communicate about things far away in time or space, to think and communicate abstractly, to generalize, classify, define objects and idea, to give and receive thoughts, to build up knowledge.

The meaning of the word also might depend on iits function.

The functions of the language

Representative – to describe the world by asserting that such and such is the case. For ex., the referee bit the player.

Expressive – to express feelings or to evoke them.

Directive – to cause or prevent aa particular action. “It’s a bit noisy here” is a polite form of “Shut up”.

Ceremonial – biding people. “How do you do”, “It was a lovely party”. (“Dos and taboos around the world”).

Performative – words transform reality by the very fact of their utterance. “I declare you man and wife”.

It is worth noting, that only in the case of representative function, truth or falsity can be attributed to the statements. Most of the time we use language to perform more than one function and the task of the hearer is to decide which one is intended or predominant.

Plato dialogue

Meaning exercise (“Lessons from around the world”)

How we see things is strongly influenced by our language and our seeing also makes influence oon our thinking. Therefore, our thinking can not be separated from our language and even we could say that our language limits our thinking.

Language as reflecting thought

If we study language closely, we can learn a lot about what individuals think, how they see things, what values they hold, even what kind of people they are.

By reflecting what we value and how we perceive life, our words act as reinforces of those values. And if we get into the habit of uusing words with powerfully negative, disparaging associations, we reveal certain attitudes. Words like Niger, gay, etc. are not value-neutral.

Miss or Mrs.: language simply reflected the long held belief that a woman’s marital status was one of the most important things about her; whereas a man’s marital status was irrelevant.

Just as language can give us insight into individuals, so it can reveal information about groups. Has it ever occurred to you, for example, that we have only one word for snow and for camel? If you were an Eskimo or an Arab you would need a lot of words for them. In fact, Eskimos have a separate word for each kind of snow: soft snow, hard-packed snow, etc. And Arabic has over five thousand different names for camel, names that point up most minute differences of age, sex, and bodily structure.

The pozint is simple: the language of a people reflects how they see and think about things. It reveals their assumptions, biases and interests; it discloses what’s important and what’s trivial in their lives.

So, developing sensitivity to language and its usage can help foster valuable insights into others and us.

Language as influencing experience

Sometimes what purports to be strictly information carries with iit an interpretation of the facts reported. If we are not careful, we can accept interpretation along with information. For ex., suppose a journalist wished to report the presence of 50.000 illegal aliens living in Los Angeles. The journalist might write “fifty thousands illegal emigrants are living in deserted buildings in Los Angeles”, or the journalist might write, “Fifty thousand illegal aliens are living are holed up in the warrens along the back alleys of lower Los Angeles”. Although both statements report essentially the same fact, the second gives you a different impression from the first.

Exercise of creating a story:

I) A guy, fallen in love;

poor family;


white-collar representative.

II) Exam;

2 days left;

half of the material learned.

III) Chechnya;




IV) starving family;



The implications of language’s impact on thought and subsequent experience are far reaching. For ex., once-polite words such as Negro and coloured have rapidly vanished from contemporary American language usage. With these words have disappeared their mental associations of separatism and inferiority. Replacing Negro and coloured is black, a descriptive term as neutral as white or red.

The same example is related with already mentioned distinction of Miss and Mrs. To those born into a society that uses exclusively Ms. To denote any female, such notions as the ffollowing might come more easily than if that society were using Mrs. or Miss:

1) that marriage does not mean the sacrifice of the woman’s personality on the altar of male egotism;

2) that the husband –wife relationship is not one of employer-employee;

3) that the unmarried woman is not by definition a failure.

Naturally, language alone will not bring about these new attitudes, but it can help create a soil in which such attitudes grow.

Lesson 8: Nothingness

Can other forms of expression convey our experience, our feelings, our beliefs, and our knowledge better than language? – art, music, body language: what it can say, what its limitations may be?

“Language and symbolism” (“Lessons from around the world”)


Language is not only a means of communication, it is also a barrier. If two people both speak the same language they can communicate with each other and exchange ideas. If they speak different languages and do not have a language in common, communication is difficult.

According to an ancient story in the book of Genesis, in the Bible, all the people on earth originally spoke a single language. Because they were able to communicate with each other, they were able to co-operate in great projects. One of these, a plan

to build a tower so tall that it stretched to heaven, so threatened God’s feelings of security and supremacy that he came down and “confounded men’s tongues” so that they could never longer understand each other. After that the building project fell through because men split up in various groups, each going their own separate ways, more inclined to conflict than to co-operation. The point of the story is that language differences allow misunderstandings and prejudices to develop. The ancient GGreeks mocked all non-Greek speakers as “barbarians”.

Language differences

Languages differ not merely in their vocabularies but also in the way they are constructed. Since all the languages most westerners are likely to know are similar in structure, we tend to assume greater similarities among all languages than is the case.

Many languages “divide up” the world in ways different from owns.

 English speaking countries have only one word “uncle”, covering both a father’s brother and a mother’s brother. In many other languages tthere are different words for these relations, and it would be necessary to know which one was referred to before choosing which word to use for a person we call an uncle.

 Many languages fail to distinguish between certain colours, which aare distinguished in English. Many West African languages fail to distinguish blue and green, and the East African language, Kiswahili, does not distinguish between red and brown.

Many languages have grammatical features, which are surprisingly different from those of the languages which most of us know.

 Hebrew has no verb tenses to show past, present and future action. Only ongoing and completed actions are differentiated.

 In Japanese adjectives have tenses which are shown by changes of the word endings, just like verbs: distinguishing e.g. “is red” from “was red”.

 In Nootka, spoken by a tribe of Indians of Indians on Vancouver Island, Canada, there are special grammatical features for talking to different classes of people. If the person being spoken to is unusually big oor fat the speaker adds aq- to the verb stem before any other suffixes. There are other affixes for addressing those who are lame, children, unusually short adults, those with eye defects, left-handed persons, circumcised males, etc.


Because of these differences it may be difficult, or even impossible, to translate some sentences from one language to another.

Firstly, there may be no simple word or set of words in the one language, which would reproduce the exact sense of the original. There iis no expression in English corresponding to the Danish expression “Tak for mad”, which is used exclusively by guests after a meal, for conveying thanks ...

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