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Language and power

kbub
Posts: 1,377
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4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I have been reflecting on the relationship of power and language. Many people think of language as a static, objective agent; however, I believe that such as view ignores the power structures within language.

The formation of a definition is a power-behavior. Taxonomies were formed at the hands of European biologists, for they held authority over biological matters. We find that ethics are defined by the powerful--consider how institutional racism and racial hierarchies were "natural," supporting those in power. The very legal "definition" of marriage reflects the changing racial and sexual power dynamics.

Our language is rooted in usefulness; it ultimately seeks to allow communication between groups. Our language is structured on how a society understands the world; thus, one's influence over societal translates into one's influence over language, and vice-versa.

Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.
Skepsikyma
Posts: 8,280
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4/6/2014 9:39:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
My loose theory of language has always been that words have functional definitions rooted in the etymology of the word, along with a host of connotations that shift based on societal forces, and which lend much of the punch to any work of literature. This is why reading authors like D. H. Lawrence can be difficult for someone in this time: much of the connotations which he relied on to communicate his point have faded from memory, and the astute reader is left only with the impression, at certain points, that something more is trying to be said here. I think that the shifting connotations are what shift and shape the strongly rooted definition, just as strong wind and sunlight can shape a slowly-growing tree. I also think that things like racial undertones are often rooted in connotation, not necessarily definition, and that they can in most cases be changed without doing violence to the central meaning of the word.

As far as race and language go, I find the concept of how literature is voiced to be interesting as well. I found this interview particularly interesting, if you're interested.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
sdavio
Posts: 1,798
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4/7/2014 4:03:22 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:
The very legal "definition" of marriage reflects the changing racial and sexual power dynamics.

I agree in that language is a subjective tool and a (synthetic) claim cannot be proven simply by appeal to definitions; however I'd posit that marriage is a bad example in that it is itself foundationally rooted in the same fascistic power structures which gave rise to these oppressive uses of language and those wishing to expand its grasp by subsidizing same-sex coupling are wishing to subvert them only superficially. What other purpose does it have but to set up hierarchies in society?

Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.

Of course, a definition is always in reference to popular opinion because its use is communication. If you are using a word with a totally different or opposite meaning than anyone else would, and not making it apparent, you are communicating something different from your intention; which is what semantics is for, to clear up those misunderstandings. As Wittgenstein would say, a totally private language is impossible.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
Graincruncher
Posts: 2,799
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4/7/2014 7:19:04 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:
Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.

Only in so much as referencing statistics when talking about something statistical. If you want to be understood, you need to make sure you're saying things in the way other people understand them.
philochristos
Posts: 2,614
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4/7/2014 10:28:00 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:

Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.

If words are defined by their use, then it's not a fallacy to appeal to popular use to arrive at your definitions.
"Not to know of what things one should demand demonstration, and of what one should not, argues want of education." ~Aristotle

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~Aristotle
TheOncomingStorm
Posts: 249
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4/7/2014 11:49:03 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:
I have been reflecting on the relationship of power and language. Many people think of language as a static, objective agent; however, I believe that such as view ignores the power structures within language.

You would definitely be right here. A view such as this would have to ignore the evolution of language. For example, English in the 1200's is almost impossible for modern Americans to recognize without studying it first.

The formation of a definition is a power-behavior. Taxonomies were formed at the hands of European biologists, for they held authority over biological matters. We find that ethics are defined by the powerful--consider how institutional racism and racial hierarchies were "natural," supporting those in power. The very legal "definition" of marriage reflects the changing racial and sexual power dynamics.

Our language is rooted in usefulness; it ultimately seeks to allow communication between groups. Our language is structured on how a society understands the world; thus, one's influence over societal translates into one's influence over language, and vice-versa.

Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.

This is where I disagree with you. Words have power because we attribute power to them. Words mean things only because we perceive them to mean things, however, without a statistical standard that people can agree on, then something as simple as a color becomes impossible to communicate via language. What if I call "sad" what you call "funny"? In our minds we can mean the same thing, but we cannot effectively communicate that with words if no standard exists.
Official "Director of Weather and Hyperbole in the Maximum Degree of Mice and Men" of the FREEDO bureaucracy.
subgenius
Posts: 124
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4/7/2014 12:05:49 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
two words fist come to mind..."Helen" and "Keller".

I don't get the idea of this thread. "Power" is manifest in the guy with biggest gun, and no amount of "language" can change that. Perhaps there is a discussion about literacy, but that emerges from the "biggest gun" dynamic.

I would propose that definitions may be less than objective or static, but language is not. Language may take many forms but it is fundamental....it is objective.
porkpoi
Posts: 2
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4/7/2014 12:44:20 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Saussure explores the first part of the question regarding symbolic power within language and firmly rejects the etymological approach as intuitive but not the true source of the meaning accepted for the phoneme within a culture preferring a diachronic approach.

This work lead to many of the analyses of power in the french authors of the middle century. Sartre comes to mind with his 'law language' or Althusser's 'hailing' as examples of the power of language to shape our understanding of the world and hence curtail our possible actions.

For analyses of the controlling power of words Fanon is an excellent start with his work on micro marginalization and the role of language in perpetuating oppressive systems by re-establishing the roles that people feel they must fill. Also Gramsci for a sane marxist analysis of replications of the relations of labor and languages role in that.
Semper transit gloria sed non transit dedecus.
porkpoi
Posts: 2
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4/7/2014 12:50:31 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:
...
Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.

Precisely so! Language itself is a totalizing fallacy. Words 'do a violence to reality' by simplifying it to a useable granularity. The choices made as new encodings are created leave a trace and can encode 'truths' about the world that future generations will inherit. c.f. Nietzsche, Derrida, Schopenhauer.
Semper transit gloria sed non transit dedecus.
wrichcirw
Posts: 11,196
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4/18/2014 6:40:46 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 4/6/2014 9:01:13 PM, kbub wrote:
I have been reflecting on the relationship of power and language. Many people think of language as a static, objective agent; however, I believe that such as view ignores the power structures within language.

The formation of a definition is a power-behavior. Taxonomies were formed at the hands of European biologists, for they held authority over biological matters. We find that ethics are defined by the powerful--consider how institutional racism and racial hierarchies were "natural," supporting those in power. The very legal "definition" of marriage reflects the changing racial and sexual power dynamics.

Our language is rooted in usefulness; it ultimately seeks to allow communication between groups. Our language is structured on how a society understands the world; thus, one's influence over societal translates into one's influence over language, and vice-versa.

This paragraph made me recall the notion that "Black is beautiful":

https://www.youtube.com...

Perhaps dictionaries cannot be used in semantics--perhaps they are only fallacy ad populum.
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?