Shape Language Or Let It Shape You

I would like to put forth a theory of language that is brief but explains a question put forth by Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a linguistic theory which practically states that language determines or shapes our perceptions of reality.

Language does shape our perception of reality, but only to some extent, and it does for some people more than others. Plus, since language is an invention there must be language inventors.

I propose that there are three types of language users in the world: the unskilled language user, a language user who is limited in their ability to depict their meaning to other people because of a limited vocabulary; the skilled language user, a language user who is able to access a multitude of different meanings upon accessing their broad-ranging vocabulary; and finally there is the language inventor, a language user who either creates their own unique words or is remembered by a word because of a theory or thing that they created. Examples of this include phrases like Freudian slip or Darwinian, and units include the unit of Force, (N)ewton, and the unit of pressure, (Pa)scal; named after the great mathematical and scientific geniuses of Sir Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.

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Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.

Isaac Newton

There is no fine line which divides the unskilled language user from the skilled one, the degree of skill lies along a linguistic spectrum: language inventors lie at the end of the spectrum, with a decreasing degree of language skill as the beginning of the spectrum is reached, where the people who are most crippled by their minuscule vocabulary are found. The more words a person knows, the closer they are to a language inventor. Once a person knows a plethora of different words then they begin to approach the language inventors. These language inventors tend to have a broad-ranging vocabulary like the rest of the skilled language users, but the fact that they invent new words axiomatically shows how some language users determine or shape our perceptions of language.

Sometimes it’s easy to see which types of people make language inventors, there’s the scientific greats who we’ve named units after like Newton and Pascal, but there’s also the unknown language inventors who created new words but were never credited with their creation due to an imperfect historical account of language invention. We know that the 20th century polymath Buckminster Fuller invented the word ‘dymaxion’ out of the words “dynamic maximum tension”, but for new words like ‘selfie’ we haven’t a clue who the inventor was. Also, it’s possible that ‘selfie’ was invented by multiple people across the world. There’s a decent chance that this is the case, since intuitively taking a picture of your self with your phone ought to include the word ‘self’ and not be very long. Adding the simple ‘ie’ sound to the end of ‘self’ seems like a good place to start for a concept denoting (in the Oxford dictionary) A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

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A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

So there are language inventors who we can accredit for new terms (like Newton and Pascal) but there are also unknown language inventors who invented words anonymously. Most words were invented anonymously, we do have a historical record of how some words came about but not most.

Those with a limited vocabulary, the unskilled language users, are hindered in their ability to depict their inner mental images and meanings to the people outside them in the external world. Their language gets them by in their existence, but they lack the ability to stray too much from their geographic location because they would sound so uneducated as to be impossible to understand. Their local discourse community is similarly hindered in their communication abilities and so they are able to communicate with one another but not with the rest of the external world.

Of course, there are plenty of uneducated people who end up becoming educated and evolve into skilled language users. The awesome thing about this spectrum is that you are mobile on it: you have the power to expand your vocabulary by doing more reading and repeating the new words which you find in the vast number of texts on this Earth. We also each have the power to generate new concepts and by doing so new words, and we don’t have to make epic scientific discovers to necessarily do so. As the famous Philosopher of Language, Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.” If you have a concept that you feel hasn’t been denoted, then sow the seed into the ground of discussion. Write a blog post about your word. Tell people about your word and why you find it helpful. Don’t make up words for the sake of making them up, for this is a sure way to not be taken seriously. However, don’t be afraid to tell people about your new word- for every word was new at one point in time. Language is an invention. Become a language inventor.



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