Quotes on language
These quotes on language will help you to explore its nature, form links with other WOKs and AOKs, and provide discussion points for TOK lessons. They will also support you as you address knowledge questions within your TOK essay and TOK presentation.
- What do the quotes suggest about the role language plays in our acquisition of knowledge?
- Are the quotes consistent, or do they clash about the role it plays as a way of knowing, and its relationship with others WOKs and AOKs?
- Can you think of other ways of knowing and areas of knowledge that these quotes relate to?
- How many of these thinkers are you familiar with? Research the ones you haven’t come across before – and, indeed, the ones you think you already know. Click on the names to take you to the corresponding Wikipedia article, although this should only be used as a starting point for your research.
Finally, how would you use the quotes to construct a typical IB Diploma TOK essay title? Look at previous TOK essay titles, and see if you can compose something similar (and think about how you’d go about structuring it).
1. The nature of language
Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classification, and that all classifications are oppressive.
One can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man.
There is nothing in philosophy which could not be said in everyday language.
Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.
Language is a mixture of statement and evocation.
To have another language is to possess a second soul.
Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.
We inhabit a language rather than a country.
Emil M. Cioran
Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Language fits over experience like a straight-jacket.
Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking.
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
Language is the dress of thought.
Language is the mother of thought, not its handmaiden.
If you want to talk about something new, you have to make up a new kind of language.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
People are under the impression that dictionaries legislate language. What a dictionary does is keep track of usages over time.
The psychology of a language which, in one way or another, is imposed upon one because of factors beyond one’s control, is very different from the psychology of a language which one accepts of one’s free will.
Language makes infinite use of finite media.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
Language also encodes our past. We want to know who we are. To know who we are, we have to know who we used to be. Consequently, our literature, written in the past, anchors us in that past.
Speech is human nature itself, with none of the artificiality of written language.
Alfred North Whitehead
Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it.
The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
You learned the concept ‘pain’ when you learned language.
2. Language and imagination
Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
3. Language and reason
Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.
4. Language and the arts
Language is much closer to film than painting is.
Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing.
Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.
With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.
Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
True creativity often starts where language ends.
Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand. The people who call themselves modernists today speak a different language.
5. Language and ethics
Male supremacy is fused into the language, so that every sentence both heralds and affirms it.
As a scholar I am interested in the philosophy of language, semiotics, call it what you want, and one of the main features of the human language is the possibility of lying.
Morality, like language, is an invented structure for conserving and communicating order. And morality is learned, like language, by mimicking and remembering.
6. Language and history
Why should a novelist not also be a historian? To force unnatural divisions within the English language is to work against its capacious and accommodating nature. To expect a writer to produce only novels, or only histories, is equivalent to demanding from a composer that he or she write only string quartets or piano sonatas.
History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.
7. Language and the human sciences
In general, every country has the language it deserves.
Jorge Luis Borges
Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world.
Language, identity and forms of life are the terms in which political demands are shaped and voiced.
What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.
Language is a window into human nature, but it is also a fistula, an open wound through which we’re exposed to an infectious world.
Obviously no language is innate. Take any kid from any race, bring them up in any culture and they will learn the language equally quickly. So no particular language is in the genes. But what might be in the genes is the ability to acquire language.
8. Language and mathematics
Math is the language of the universe.
9. Language and the natural sciences
When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.
The problems of language here are really serious. We wish to speak in some way about the structure of the atoms. But we cannot speak about atoms in ordinary language.
10. Language and technology
The Semantic Web isn’t inherently complex. The Semantic Web language, at its heart, is very, very simple. It’s just about the relationships between things.
Ever since the arrival of printing – thought to be the invention of the devil because it would put false opinions into people’s minds – people have been arguing that new technology would have disastrous consequences for language.
We’re losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point. Too much exclusive use of electronic information dehumanises what is a very, very important part of community life and living together.