Aditz By Aditz, 22nd Mar 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

An assignment I was working on in 11th grade, though I already know the grade for it. I wish to know what people really think.


‘The vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge; it shapes what we can know’. Evaluate this claim with reference to different areas of knowledge.

KI(Knowledge Issue): To what extent does vocabulary limit our understanding of the world due to its static and abstract nature?

“Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself”
- Mark Twain

What does this quote imply? These words convey the limitation of language as a tool for communication. In this essay, I will argue that the vocabulary we have, despite the fact that it helps us communicate our knowledge and shape what we know, is not ample enough to convey more than knowledge.

We think because we have words. Thinking is a process of association therefore our words help us think. This ability to think is refined and enhanced depending upon the vocabulary in any particular language. But the range of words in a language and fine shades of meanings they can express depend on the cultural, social and historical contexts. In short, the meaning of words is highly contextual. Hence, we find that at times, it becomes difficult to communicate our knowledge and experience through words, as the same set of words are understood differently by different human beings.

So the perception of different human beings brings about different meanings for the same word. Even languages that are rich in vocabulary, cannot express the range of human emotions. Words are binary. They can convey yes or no, but real life situations include the ambiguity between yes and no, or as Edward de Bono would put it “po” (De Bono Edward).

Even when I write poetry, the words I use have only a single meaning or motive in the sentence, the magnitude of meanings generated are blurred due to our understanding of the word as a static noun. It shows that we are limiting ourselves to just a single meaning of words, this may be a reason to our digressing creativity. This creates a binary world but not reality.

Words cannot contain the opposite in them-selves, where as real life contains this contradiction. For example, life and death are two different phenomena as far as the world of words is concerned but in real life it is a continuous process. Every minute life turns into death and vice versa. In fact, living is dying. Another example would be the question of love and hate. As words they are different but in real life they are one phenomenon. All relationships are love-hate relationships as love and hate are not mutually exclusive. It is like a Mobius strip, one surface but with two sides. Both cannot be separate neither can both be called the same. They are always together.
Words are static but life is a dynamic phenomenon. Nouns simplify our life and help us to communicate. But the very process of simplification makes dynamic things frozen and fails to convey the pulsating dynamic process called life. ‘Tree’ is a static noun. But no tree is static. It is constantly changing, breathing, growing, flowering, decaying and dying. The word can never be the thing.

One of the main differences between human beings and animals is human beings' ability to think abstractly. Words help us in this process of abstraction and hence communication, not only across spaces but also across time. But there is also a flip side to this. Constant usage of a particular word creates an illusion of understanding without any such real understanding at all. The processes, which have been converted into static nouns, fail to capture the ever-changing reality. So we are limited in expressing and understanding our reality through words.

Mathematics, physical sciences, and natural sciences may be learnt through words, not ordinary words but specialized vocabulary evolved in each of these disciplines, with a certain amount of objectivity. But such an understanding may not be entirely possible in other areas such as psychology, literature, social sciences and humanities, Hence the diversity of interpretations. These severe limitations and contextual nature of knowledge constructed through words have been self-evident.

To sum up, for communicating knowledge and for shaping what we know, vocabulary is necessary but not sufficient. Words are like fingers pointing at the moon, though not the moon.

KI: Can Knowledge acquired from script and language be more precise than knowledge acquired through experience?

There cannot be a yes or no answer. It depends on the nature of knowledge, which we try to acquire. Hence generalizing superiority of one over the other is meaningless. While precise knowledge such as art has to be acquired through experience, the knowledge of certain sciences needs words and scripts (including symbols). Abstraction needs both words and language to help learning. We consider experience as a formless language, which is based on sense perception.

Knowledge acquired through script need not be a personal experience. It can be transmitted without any personal contact, thorough books and printed material. Knowledge from the distant past may also be transmitted like history. Experience of others may be transmitted through words like love and passion, but words and their meanings are contextual. Different people may interpret it differently.

Much meaning can be lost due to distance of space and time; for example reading about living in the cold of Siberia and actually living there is very different, as those who read about it cannot perceive the cold which the writer may have felt. So a range of emotions cannot be communicated through words, this limits our understanding.

The purest form of data is experience as it is transferred directly to the person seeking it. But Language and Script are forms with a medium that has been written by another person’s account, so the purity of the knowledge entailed in the content deteriorates and becomes less precise.

E.g. Godaan, a book I read, is translated from Hindi to English. After translation, the meaning of several words is perceived in a different manner. Due to the change in the abstract meaning, words that may have had cultural significance lose that significance. This means that it has lost the original meaning, which was to be conveyed by Munshi Premchand.

Whereas Knowledge acquired through experience is lived experience. It is mostly authentic as it is knowledge sent directly to the brain. But, one cannot experience everything in life. Passing down of knowledge is not possible, as the same experience cannot be reproduced due to a shift in paradigm. Many areas of knowledge cannot be lived experience for example maths, physics etc. sometimes our own experiences are vague, not precise.

So if we were to compare the precision of knowledge in each, it would turn out to be a yes and no as either or both are needed in different cases. Yes, in certain areas of knowledge, lived experience is more precise than reading about it and learning about it through words e.g. cooking, arts, crafts, literature etc. to some extent. Vicarious pleasure is not real.

In certain areas words and language are more precise. In order to be precise every discipline has evolved its own technical words and Jargons. Hence they are more precise than lay people’s language.

Knowledge is vast and so it cannot be isolated unless it is restricted in a certain domain. The illusion of understanding curtails the true meaning of knowledge; this is primarily done by language. We interpret it as knowledge, however due to the multiplicity of interpretations knowledge becomes even more impossible to be certain of. But when it comes to visceral knowledge, the knowledge is not just passing directly to the brain. Through technical words or jargons however the precision of knowledge perceived is much more thorough and certain.

Language is a form, which acts as a stimulus for the brain to process later after understanding the language. Experience on the other hand doesn’t necessarily need processing. Experience holds meaning which is later made into words, so the words themselves are just mirrors of the experience. This means that there can be enhanced understanding of reality if both are applied together.
CAS is also one area where creativity, action and service expose us to a lot of the visceral knowledge, feelings like pride and satisfaction cannot be described through words or symbols. They can only be experienced first-hand.

This form of knowledge is processed directly in our brain and it cannot be through words. The knowledge when written can describe that feeling or experience, but it cannot allow a person to feel exactly the way the writer felt. As everyone’s interpretation is different and the implication of the script itself cannot give fulfillment to the meaning of the knowledge gained in CAS.

In conclusion, the ways of knowing are only limited to a certain domain and this causes it to have numerous meanings, also the interpretation of knowledge is different for different people. This leads us to believe that visceral knowledge can be understood better and is considered greater. Learning a language needs experience; prior knowledge is needed in everything we do, as it makes our task easier and understandable.
Both are imperfect and hence both are required for precise knowledge. They are not contradictory but they are complimentary. You cannot substitute one with the other, but you have supplemented one with the other depending on the area of knowledge. For instance, one may experience a vague emotion but reading about it from books on psychology may help to understand it more precisely. It can be vice versa. You read about the Himalayas and understand them verbally but when you actually see them you will be able to understand them in the real sense. What you have read will unfold with more and precise meaning.

Works Cited
De, Bono Edward. Po, beyond Yes and No. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973. Print.


Language, Language Issues, Language Matters, Opinion, Opinionated, Understanding

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author avatar Aditz
Creative and argumentative writing. I have been writing poetry and several pieces since 10th grade.

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author avatar Md Rezaul Karim
22nd Mar 2013 (#)

Wow, so great piece of work...

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
22nd Mar 2013 (#)

Scholarly discourse, Aditz. The words convey the meaning of the times, context, they are written or spoken. It can easily be taken out of context like when quoting statistics - siva

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author avatar LOVERME
22nd Mar 2013 (#)

you are indeed a wordy worldly man...
ung kid

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author avatar Kingwell
23rd Mar 2013 (#)


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