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Lala Land: A Theory on Epistemology

Proposition:

Knowledge is shaped by language

Before I delve too deeply into this proposition, I’ll define some things first.

Knowledge:

  • The statement is true
  • You believe the statement is true
  • Your belief is based on a true statement
  • There is justification in your belief

Despite the fact that this is taken directly from one of the packages we received, I think that it can work for what I’m discussing today. I may change parts of this definition later in this post, but I’m alright with this for now.

 

Language:

This was a bit harder, if only because there is no true set parameters for a language. Or at least, if there are, then they could be expanded based on what we consider a language.

Morse code, for example, could be considered a language of it’s own. Binary, too. I personally would say that it does not constitute a language, if only because it does not grow and change as a language does today; yet that same thought cannot apply to dead language such as Latin. Building even more on that, what of ASL and other sign languages?

To incorporate all of these thoughts, I will go with the definition that:

 

So, going back to my premise:

Knowledge is shaped by language

I think that in many ways we are unable to have knowledge without language. While we can still experience the world without being able to name specifics within it, language is inherently a system of communication, no matter which one you are “speaking”. Because of this, language gives us the ability to convey our thoughts on the world around us, to give names to the trees and the sky and our mothers. There have been people who have lived without language, yet as they discuss in this podcast (skip to 54:30), such a life is impossible to conceive of , especially considering the way that Ildefonso’s friends communicate.

To not have words or language is incomprehensible, yet Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk on her “stroke of insight” elaborates on her stroke which caused her so-called brain chatter to cease for several months.

(warning for an actual human brain, which is a bit disturbing)

Because of both Bolte-Taylor and Ildefonso’s experiences, I believe that I can say that it is impossible to make connections and truly comprehend the world without language. Mentalfloss discusses this very topic in a short article which also referenced the birth of a language in Nicaragua, which, independent of teaching from anyone outside of the student’s deaf community, became it’s own conventional language, just as ASL is a language. As well, the article written by Greg Downey, which heavily references the story of Ildefonso, discusses how language becomes ingrained within us after we have learned it, becoming such a deep part of us that it is impossible to forget once we have learned it.

Photo taken from Zack Godshall’s website of Ildefonso and SUsan Schaller

Indeed, languages grow as we grow, and at the same time, languages cause us to grow while we learn them. Going from having no language at all to having a complex one that was created by and for you creates a world in which your growth and the language’s is in tandem. Though perhaps this isn’t just confined to sign languages—after all, we did just name ‘vape’ as this year’s “Word of the Year”. If that isn’t growth, I don’t know what is.

Photo taken from Imperial Tobacco EU Twitter acct

So, because of all of this, I believe that I can say that the following premise is true:

  • Language is necessary to comprehend the world

Building on that last point, in our class we’ve mostly agreed on the idea that to prove you’ve learned something, you must be able to teach it to others. To teach something to other people you need language, or at the very least, a means of transferring what you know to the other person. There’s a branch of philosophy that has to do with the philosophy of language, especially relating to language and thought. This relates to the idea that if someone does not have the words to convey and idea, then they cannot have that idea or comprehend the subject. If you’ve read 1984, this is Newspeak.

Photo taken from paranoidmandroid.co.uk

This is also reflected in the world today, with cultures that do not have names for numbers or colours. On the other hand, as with Parker’s post about untranslatable words, perhaps other cultures see our language as plodding and slow as compared to their own. Within Chinese dialects and French, they have different terms for specific family relations; the Chinese dialects have specific words for father’s mother and mother’s mother (mama and popo, in Cantonese respectively) and in French the gender-specific cousins vs. cousines shows whether you are indicating a female or male relative.

Photo taken from Ella Frances Sanders’ blog

So what does that mean?

On the surface, it means that the amount of information within your language is directly related to how much you can comprehend of the world, therefore how much you know. This leads me to my next point, which is that:

  • Without the proper words, you are unable to think and understand the world as a whole

So my syllogism is as follows:

  • Language is necessary to comprehend the world
  • Without the proper language, you are not fully able to think and understand the world as a whole

So if knowledge is a collection of facts that you have gathered as you grow, and language is inherently tied to your knowledge and thinking process,  then:

Therefore: Knowledge is shaped by language

 

4 Responses to Lala Land: A Theory on Epistemology

  1. Vincent says:

    Speaking of Binary and its many on and off switches, I was wondering whether similar properties would apply to “knowledge”. For example, in one of your parentheses, I believe you mentioned that knowledge must be true. But doesn’t knowledge have a true or false property much like values have an on and off property in Binary. Perhaps it is much like the over cliché example of the world being known to be flat. Originally it had the property true, however, after “data” was collected, all with neither true or false value, its property was changed to false. Now the idea of the world being spherical has the property true, and not false. Please scroll down, or look down for the definitions of data and knowledge as these largely have to do with the above idea.

    Knowledge: Knowledge is an idea located within the mind that has the property true or false.

    Data: Data is simply information located outside the mind that is placed inside the mind and altered by senses, then it becomes knowledge.

    Perhaps there are flaws to my theory, however I do not know. I was just wondering if you had considered that knowledge could have a false property on top of its true property.

     
  2. Jess says:

    Actually, to be quite honest, I forgot to look back up at my definition of knowledge. Nevertheless, upon further reflection, the line between ‘knowledge is truth’ and ‘knowledge is what we know to be true’ is giving me a headache, but I see what you’re saying. I agree with your data vs knowledge description, because I feel like the knowledge that we have is just factual information from outside of ourselves that we have internalized. It paints kind of a funny picture though, all of this data swarming around waiting for us to know it.

    Beyond that, though, I think that opens up a host of other questions, not necessarily relating to data, but more to memories and knowledge. For instance, can knowledge be defined or measured in any way? Do memories count as knowledge? Do they translate into facts that count as knowledge, such as, “I know that my mother’s hugs were comforting when I was 5”?

    And even more than that, what about knowledge that we learned and then forgot? If we once knew the exact number of presidents currently alive in the United States but forgot it (to make room for more pressing concerns), does that mean that it went from being data to knowledge and back again? I’m not really sure, and because of that, for the purposes of this post, I kept my definitions simple (though I may go back and change them now), but I think that knowledge itself (and by association, epistemology) is much larger than we can really define.

    (((( PS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_Flat_Earth )))

     
  3. Avery C says:

    Very well written post Jess. Something of interest is that you seem to have been mostly referencing spoken-word language as opposed to written language or body language. Written language is basically a transcribed form of spoken-word language, but body language is entirely different. Body language fulfills your definition of language as “a language is a system of communication used within a community or country”, but would not necessarily serve as a method of understanding the world. How would you reconcile this apparent issue that body language is a language by your definition, but does not have the necessary properties? Does a language need to be capable of assisting comprehension?

     
    • Jess says:

      I don’t think that body language is actually a language in the sense that we think of languages, but that it is something which works alongside the actual speaking part of language. I don’t think that body language can convey a message in the same way that spoken or even written language can, yet when combined with spoken language, it enhances it, creating a better effect. Enunciation becomes more prominent, emotions more clear, and altogether the feeling of whatever is being discussed is more sharply defined, so in that way I think that spoken language is aided by body language, but body language is not a real language.

       

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