Quotes on language

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.

Consideration points

  1. What do the quotes suggest about the role language plays in our acquisition of knowledge?
  2. 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?
  3. Can you think of other ways of knowing and areas of knowledge that these quotes relate to?
  4. 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 , 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.
Roland Barthes
One can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man.
John Berger
There is nothing in philosophy which could not be said in everyday language.
Henri Bergson
Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.
Elizabeth Bowen
Language is a mixture of statement and evocation.
Elizabeth Bowen
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.
Noam Chomsky
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.
William Golding
Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking.
Peter Guber
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
Martin Heidegger
Language is the dress of thought.
Samuel Johnson
Language is the mother of thought, not its handmaiden.
Karl Kraus
If you want to talk about something new, you have to make up a new kind of language.
Haruki Murakami
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
George Orwell
People are under the impression that dictionaries legislate language. What a dictionary does is keep track of usages over time.
Steven Pinker
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.
Edward Sapir
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.
Andrzej Wajda
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.
Benjamin Whorf
The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
You learned the concept ‘pain’ when you learned language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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.
Claude Levi-Strauss

4. Language and the arts

Language is much closer to film than painting is.
Sergei Eisenstein
Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing.
John Erskine
Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.
Martha Graham
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.
Ernst Haas
Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
Herbie Hancock
True creativity often starts where language ends.
Arthur Koestler
Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand. The people who call themselves modernists today speak a different language.
Marshall McLuhan

5. Language and ethics

Male supremacy is fused into the language, so that every sentence both heralds and affirms it.
Andrea Dworkin
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.
Umberto Eco
Morality, like language, is an invented structure for conserving and communicating order. And morality is learned, like language, by mimicking and remembering.
Jane Rule

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.
Peter Ackroyd
History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.
Theodor Adorno

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.
Noam Chomsky
Language, identity and forms of life are the terms in which political demands are shaped and voiced.
Terry Eagleton
What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.
Jane Goodall
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.
Steven Pinker
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.
Steven Pinker

8. Language and mathematics

Math is the language of the universe.
Lucas Grabeel

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.
Niels Bohr
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.
Werner Heisenberg

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.
Tim Berners-Lee
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.
David Crystal
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.
Vincent Nichols

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. Quotes on language (10th September 2013). theoryofknowledge.net. http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/ways-of-knowing/language/quotes-on-language/ Last accessed: 20th March 2018


Leave a Comment