Friday, March 13, 2015

Repost: Language in America - 3

Every other week my blog will feature a reposted work. I had been a contributor on two different sites that have since closed or no longer include blogs. I will be reposting pieces that had originally been featured on one of these two sites.  

This was originally posted June 10, 2011

This is the third installment of my review of the book Language in America published in 1969.
As I said in my first reflections on this book:
I’d like to encourage you as my reader in the ways that I was challenged through reading the book.  That challenge is, to pay attention to the words you use.  Take care to mean the words that you say in the way that you say them.  Be aware of the implications of the slang you use and what it might indicate. 

Another chapter that leads me to consider this writing as somewhat prophetic is the chapter entitled The Language of Computers.  The author, Edward Lias, states that his goal is to help the reader consider the bias of the computer as a medium. Here are some of his concerns...
[REMEMBER this was written in 1969!!!] 
(Did they even have computers then?):

  1. Computer use might change the metaphors we use in our language. 
    • How often do we use metaphors that compare us to computers when we talk about ourselves?  
    • He predicts that this will lead to changes in global culture.  
  2. He writes that, because the computer responds so quickly, people will “probably begin to desire simultaneity in other areas of life and culture.”  
    • Yup.  That’s happened.  It seems to me that there is a general expectation in modern American culture that one’s desires will be delivered instantly. 
  3. Again, he states that computer use will affect the English language itself.
He has a lot more to say in the essay, but what stuck with me the most was the idea that use of computers will change our expectations throughout life and culture.  I think this is worth examining. Well, I know it's worth me examining, maybe it is for you as well.

The last essay is simply titled Polluted Language.  The authors consider the idea of pollution as it relates to language and draw conclusions regarding its effects by comparing a society to a natural system affected by natural pollution.  Here are some of their points. 
  1. Natural pollution hinders unity so language pollution will hinder societal unity.
  2. Natural pollution hinders reproduction so language pollution in society will hinder production of new knowledge which would otherwise be built upon old knowledge.
  3. Natural pollution hinders the quality of natural life so language pollution will hinder the quality of societal life. 
As is probably obvious by now, I agree with many of the conclusions of this book (and most Neil Postman writings).  
I think we have Amused Ourselves to Death.  
I think our language is polluted. 

I guess some questions for you (and for my own ponderings) are:
Do you say what you mean?
Are the words you say influenced by your circumstances?
Do you find it difficult to communicate complex ideas?
Do you find it difficult to understand complex ideas?
Do you find the path of wisdom elusive?
Do you find disagreement more natural (or more frequent) than agreement?

Clear understanding and communication is a passion of mine; this is not to say that I always do it well.  I think all these questions are important to consider. 

That’s all for now, looks like I can return this book to the Indiana Wesleyan University library.

[Note: This post was originally written almost four years ago. I did return the book. The fountain is gone, but presumably the book is still there for any current IWU locals to pick up and read.]

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