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The Vocabulary That We Have Does More Than Communicate Our Knowledge; It Shapes What We Can Know

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The vocabulary that we have does more than communicate our knowledge; it shapes what we can know

Evaluate this claim with reference to different areas of knowledge

As a student in England, I have been culturally conditioned to think and differentiate objects in a way different to someone from another part of the world due to my vocabulary, I see rats and mice as two separate entities and there is no confusion between the terms. However to an exclusively speaking Japanese native, they do not normally differentiate between mice and rats (ねずみ); if forced the Japanese call a mouse (いいねずみ) which means good mouse, whereas the Japanese for rat translates as (汚いねずみ)-dirty mouse . We can see in this case that the translation of what I consider foreign vocabulary is not only communicating information but it also shows how other cultures perceive concepts. Therefore vocabulary is not only communicating knowledge but rather it shapes what we can know as it shows how we perceive things. Considering the English statement, 'the rat is white', if we translated this into Japanese, and took the translation we get 'the dirty mouse is white'. In the same way not only does vocabulary communicate knowledge, but it also shapes how we know new things, the Japanese student would know the dirty mouse as white, not the rat. The vocabulary used communicates the knowledge that the dirty mouse is white; it also shapes how we perceive concepts. As we use perception as one of our tools of knowledge, our vocabulary shapes what we can know. During this essay I will evaluate how vocabulary does more than communicate our knowledge but also shapes what we can know by influencing our tools for knowledge, such as reason and perception. I will consider mathematics, literature and human sciences as my areas of knowledge.

I believe the objective of language is to communicate information; vocabulary is a key component of language and hence serves the same purpose. Bertrand Russell author of (Principia Mathematica(1910-13)) purported that mathematics follows a series of logical rules that were defined by mathematical notation, and argued that mathematics and logic are the same. However as mathematics is defined by a language of its own 'Mathematical notation', its truths are contained within its own parameters and are bound by its own language. Mathematical vocabulary therefore communicates what we know about mathematics. You cannot have a mathematical truth that is not written in mathematical notation, as maths is only true within its own parameters. Due to this, any further mathematical knowledge can only be written in mathematical vocabulary which conforms to the parameters, as this new mathematical truth will follow the old ones written in mathematical language. Hence the mathematical vocabulary we have now will determine what we can know in the future. A counter criticism is that new vocabulary is needed for new mathematical truth, and therefore vocabulary does not shape what we can know, as we do not know what the vocabulary for the new truth. A reply to this would be that vocabulary influences our reasoning. Mathematical reasoning is used to try and find a new truth, while new vocabulary may be used to describe the new truth, pre-existing mathematical vocabulary that we already had was used to deduce the new truth, therefore the vocabulary we had shaped the new vocabulary and influenced the new knowledge.

The use of literature as an area of knowledge helps in the reiteration that vocabulary not only communicates what we know now but what we will know. If we consider '1984' the book by Orwell , 'Newspeak' is the language being introduced. Newspeak was designed to reduce the range of thought and expression; this was done by cutting the range of vocabulary. As a by product of this, some of the definitions of the words disappeared, free could only be used in the sense of being 'free from' as in 'my garden is free from weeds', there was no idea of intellectual liberty and free thought. We can see that vocabulary and language affects my ability to reason, as without the concept of 'free', I will not be able to reason that I am free to think what I want. Similarly if I had no concept of plane or how engines work I can't reason, or think that planes could fly, I would need to look to nature, for flight such was the case of the Native Americans during the Second World War , when they described American planes as big birds. Indeed vocabulary communicates how we reason in other ways, due to the idea of languages. In English we have two words for 'Rabbit/Hare things', hares are different to rabbits, due to their thicker skulls, and rearing of offspring above ground. German also has two words for 'Rabbit/Hare things', 'Kaninchen' and 'hase', 'kaninchen' in some dictionaries, is the German for 'rabbit', 'hase' hares, however the distinction between 'kaninchen' and 'hase' is that 'kaninchen

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