Project Journal

Divya Rath

Cayla Amparan, Zoe Grout, Valeria Espinosa

February 24-March 3

WOK Badge: Language

"Investigating Flaubert's Contradictions: The Linguistic Limitations of Language"

2/24/2017: Chapter 4 was a very informative read. I learned a lot about the utilization of language in communication; I was quite intrigued to learn about the different types of theories of using language. The one that stood out to me the most was the definition theory of meaning. It was clear to see that this type of understanding had some limitations, but it really surprised me that even the source of most words in our language still lacks the ability to concretely define all the aspects of certain words. It is quite ironic that the supposedly clear way of how humans express themselves still cannot express everything that they truly feel. I think that this therefore inhibits our acquisition of knowledge since this lack of expression doesn't provide a complete "picture" so to speak about humans' experiences, ideas, emotions, and other things of the like. This lack of ability to express everything is very interesting to me; in my badge project, I think that I would like to investigate the idea of how language shapes our acquisition of knowledge. Hopefully I can learn more about language's limitations and the things it does allow us to express.

2/28/2017: So after finishing the badge quiz , our group met up and began discussing language as a whole as a way for beginning the process of brainstorming for our WOK project on this subject. As we discussed, we talked about the correlation between language and knowledge in regards to how language allows us to share knowledge. This lead us to choosing our essential question: How does language shape our knowledge? Language is a wonderful way of communication, and is probably one of the most advanced manners of communication that humans have. However, during course of the discussion, we ultimately ended up asking ourselves, is there a point at which language is unable to convey knowledge, and it is no longer able to be understood? Does this form of communication limit our ability to express ideas? It is from this idea that we decided to further investigate our knowledge question by learning about how language can actually inhibit the ways we express ourselves. After deciding this, we went off for a few minutes and began researching different ideas regarding language. We happened to stumble upon a quote by Flaubert, which reads, "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” For me, the quote was absolutely applicable to this situation; the quote essentially says that language itself longs to express amazing, intangible ideas and feelings but only succeeds in conveying rough, concrete ideas. We're hoping to incorporate this quote into our presentation of our investigation of language's limitations. As of now, we have tentatively decided to do an experiment showing how people cannot express certain things with language itself, explain how that correlates with Flaubert's quote, and then explain the correlation these two things have with language. Hopefully we can make the point come across to the audience.

3/1/2017:I just finished reading the elective reading of "Edith Grossman recommends the best books in Translation". I found the article to be quite interesting and liked the points Grossman made about language itself. She mentioned that no two translators have the exact same translation, which lead me to think about the ambiguity of language. These translators all had different ideas of what the the words mean; no one translator thought the same thing. This different understanding means the language itself can be interpreted in many various ways, and that one sentence may have a different meaning for each person that reads it. This ambiguity leads to people interpreting things in different ways, and I think that this is a big part of what contributes to one of the limitations of language. The lack of clarity plays a apparent role in determining how people make sense of what the other person is saying; we will never know what someone truly means because of the ambiguity. This limitation is significant, but I believe that it still necessary for us to utilize language even with this limitation because it is the most reliable form of communication humans have at this point in time.

3/3/2017: One additional resource I discovered regarding to language can be http://www.briancroxall.net/lit-tech/2012/10/08/the-limitations-of-language/. I found it to be a very insightful article, and it sort of related to our knowledge question perfectly. Although it is kind of focused on the relation between the limitations of language and the film industry with regards to silent films. it still manages to convey the general idea that language can inhibit and create different meanings for different people based on how they interpret the linguistic message. It was instrumental in helping me understand this specific limitation of language in depth, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to be used in our arsenal of resources for elective readings.

3/3/2017: We just finished presenting our WOK badge project. I think that it went pretty well, in my opinion. Before we presented, yesterday all of us as a group came together to review the project and see if we needed to tweak anything. We ended up eliminating the "experiment with colors" we had previously implemented due to time constraints and because it was honestly just extra information; our point was still able to be conveyed without the additional experiment and it made our entire presentation flow together a lot more precisely. We still briefly mentioned it in our explanation, but we didn't perform the extra experiment because it wasn't necessary. Time-wise we were structured well, and I think as a whole our presentation was nice because we were prepared. Also, I think I implemented the points that I had lacked previously into this presentation, and I am glad that I was able to see the improvement I made ie. eliminating unnecessary information, improving the amount of time we use to explain our WOK, etc. We connected our presentation to a previous way of knowing by tying in emotion to our analysis; we said that emotions could influence the way we interpret or analyze a certain phrase because it constructs a bias over the words we try to understand. In conclusion, I think this presentation definitely helped my understand language as a way of knowing at a deeper level.

Essential Questions Encountered in this WOK: How does language shape our knowledge? How does language limit our ability to express ourselves?”

Preliminary Script

Cayla Amparan: The initial essential question we picked for the language WOK was “How does language shape knowledge?”. But first, what even is language? Language is a way of deciphering the meaning of a word, a sentence, a novel, and other things of the sort. The meaning of a phrase is important in the search for knowledge because one must know what something means before they can decide on whether the knowledge is true or false. We discussed the correlation between language and knowledge in regards to how language allows us to share knowledge; however, during the discussion, we ultimately ended up asking ourselves, is there a point at which language stops and knowledge is no longer able to be shared? It is from this thought that we derived our knowledge question, “How does language limit our ability to express ourselves?”

Valeria Espinosa : While researching, our group came across a quote by Gustave Flaubert from Madame Bovary. He states, "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” This quote is essentially saying that when we speak, we think that what we are going to say will be magical and make complete sense to the extent that the world will melt around us. However it comes out as an inconsistent, disgruntled mess, therefore proving that language doesn’t always do our knowledge justice. The quote illustrates our query almost perfectly, and was a stepping stone we utilized in order to investigate our knowledge question.

Zoe Grout: Any of you who have spent any amount of time on the internet have likely come across questions that fall under one similar theme: the impossible. These include “Try explaining a color to a blind person” or “Differentiate left from right” or “How long is forever?”. If you’ve seen any of these, you’ve probably also realized that you can’t for the life of you figure out how to answer them. When you hit that point of rock bottom, you’ve uncovered a sort of gap between what we know and our linguistic abilities. In TOK terms, this is the definition theory of meaning. The definition theory tries to distinguish meaningful words from meaningless words through dictionary definitions; after all, where better to go for a linguistic solution than the index of all words? However, you’ll find that when you do go to a dictionary for answers, you are left with far more questions. Definitions are often vague, imprecise, and use words that only beg for more definitions, thus leaving us in an inescapable, endless cycle of words.

Divya Rath: There is also the issue of that there is no way for us to know for a fact that whomever we are talking to has the same understanding of every word we use. This highlights a limitation of language: it cannot clearly describe feelings and emotions. For example, in a conversation about love, everyone involved could have a different understanding of the meaning of love. I might define love as a feeling I have about my sister, whereas Person X might define love as a feeling of deep romantic affection for a significant other. A word like love is something which carries a large depth of understanding, and simply trying to pinpoint a few chosen words to define it is nearly impossible to do, due to the nature of our language (that is, it has severe limitations that prevent us from expressing all that we feel). The limitations are that we are only able to use language to describe ideas or things that have been proven. Things that we just simply “know” are harder to describe because they are open to a person’s individual interpretation, and there is no singular definition for them. Most of our presentation has discussed only the limitations of language; however, it is worth noting that language is important and valuable to us. Our society could not function without language, even with its limitations. Language may inhibit our ability to express what we feel inside ourselves, but without it we could not begin to express anything. Ironically, in his quote from Madame Bovary, Flaubert discusses the limitations of language, in a way that is beautiful, and communicates to us exactly what he feels. While language has its clear boundaries, it is important to note that it is open-ended enough to allow the writer or speaker to manipulate it in such a way that it becomes a direct path between a soul and an audience.

Cayla Amparan: In conclusion, to answer our knowledge question, language limits our ability to express ourselves because it does not encompass and describe all of the emotions that we as humans can feel. When we go looking for a way to describe our emotions using definitions from dictionaries, we also find that the definitions are ambiguous and only beg further questions. Furthermore, language as a construct is built on uncertainty, because everyone who communicates with others must assume that the other communicator also has an understanding of the words you are using. Similarly, they must assume the same for you. However, language is the most efficient form of communication that we have come across to date, and when used effectively it can express its intended purpose. As Flaubert said, we are outwardly all tapping crude rhythms on cracked kettles for bears to dance to, even though within ourselves, we have the knowledge to make music that will melt the stars.

Slide Show Presentation

EXTRA THOUGHTS: I'm pretty sure that this presentation was essentially one of my better presentations, in terms of how I presented. I felt that everything was quite more put together and coherent, and that it had a much clearer focus than the other WOK badges I have previously worked on. I think that it was because as a group, we were able to find a way to tie all of our content together seamlessly. In previous WOK's, I had a general idea about the topic, but in our groups, we were never able to be quite cohesive and tie everything together well; all of the material was spread out and didn't connect to the overall idea we tried to address. I just thought it was noteworthy to write about how I was finally able to see that I (and/or my group) was able to establish a connection between the investigation and our analysis/question we tried to answer. Hopefully I can continue this with other WOK badges as well!

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