Our questions will be the following: Are truths obscured by the language in which we express them?
Initial plans are to make a play, exploring the roles of euphemisms, weasel words, and emotive language in shaping understanding.
After discussion with Mr. Morrison, we decided to focus on whether it is possible to write a source without bias. Each of us will attempt to detach bias from the Boston Massacre, but will ultimately use denotations and connotations to show that bias is inherent with language as a way of knowing. We plan to show that language is necessary to attain knowledge, but its ambiguity makes it unreliable by itself. Knower’s perspective account for the bias, but it cannot be removed. The truths obscured must resurface by integrating experiences, reasoning, and sense perception.
2/28/17 - Additional Readings
E.Q: How does language shape knowledge?
What does language reveal about human nature?
In one of my elective readings (in this case regarding language and how it reflects human nature) I learned that language can be used to mean something else. For instance, when someone says “If you could pass the salt, that would be awesome” we take it as the polite request of “Please pass me the salt.” The actual sentence doesn't make much sense if taken literally, but we as humans read between the lines and immediately grasp the command.
Another concept explored was the idea of euphemisms, which is when nicer words are used not to sound too harsh. For instance, instead of someone saying, "Five civilians bled to death after being shot by terrorists," one would say "Five civilians passed away of unnatural causes" to sugarcoat the violence and terror of the event. I learned that such euphemisms shape knowledge as well, because recounting an event with less severity can give a completely different impression. With regards to human nature, this shows that people inherently try to use language to remove the blame from themselves and manipulate others to believe that everything is normal when in reality something really bad has occurred. By reading between the lines, people can begin to understand that language is being used to persuade and galvanize people, removing the least appealing details to gain public support.
I further learned that language is veiled because it’s one of the primary means of mediating relationships. It shows that humans want to appease and be polite, even if in reality they’re merely veiling some harsher words. The great thing about language, which I also learned while working on badge project, is that its ambiguity lends itself to great interpretation, so words can be used in a plethora of contexts to mean different things.
3/1/17 11:30 AM
Today we made the final touches to our presentation. We are pursuing the questions “Are truths obscured by the language in which we express them?” with a focus on how bias functions as a limitation to language by implanting ambiguity. We will each present our own version of the Boston Massacre and show that bias is inherent even when we deliberately try to remove it. We will provide examples of denotations and connotations to show that knower’s perspective variety will always lead to bias and limit language as a way of knowing.
After presenting the badge project, we were very surprised: even though our point came across, we have to redo and add a creative component to our presentation. While our activity and conclusion were solid, Mr. Morrison wants us to engage the audience more by adding a less formal component to get our point across.
The original activity we did centered on attempting to remove bias from the account of the Boston Massacre to show that bias is inherent to language due to ambiguity. However, we will now integrate the extremes of bias to show that loaded language with more clear connotations also obscure the truth because language is confined and colored in one direction. With Mr. Morrison’s input, we created our own Mad Libs activity for our classmates to fill in the blanks. We will then read the presumably loaded accounts and show first-hand that truth has been obscured through the connotations of the language used.
I wasn’t anticipating this setback, but it’s a learning experience that comes to teach a very important lesson: engaging the audience is just as important as having a good presentation. Before today, I didn’t know this was a necessity since it wasn’t part of the rubric, but I understand Mr. Morrison’s point that presentation skills should be developed. I’m disappointed in myself for falling into this mistake, but at least I know I will not make that error again when in comes to badge projects.
We created our own Mad Libs for the class, assigning each table to take one of the biased views (either the British or American perspective). In this manner, we engaged the class in a fun activity to explore the extremes of bias. In our original presentation, we showed that it’s impossible to remove bias because of the connotations and ambiguity of language, and that because of this inherent bias language always covers up some element of truth.
By making this addition to our project, we learned that coloring stories with emotion and language that have strong connotation plays a huge role in hiding the truth. We then tied this back to the AOK history: the reason historians consult multiple sources is to get all the perspectives of an event and cover up for the limitations that bias implants into language. This project taught me a lot about human nature and the fact that emotion often works in conjunction with language, and I better comprehended that language’s ambiguity is ultimately rooted in knower’s perspective. I’m glad that we did the class activity; it helped us learn that language as a way of knowing cannot be taken for granted or trusted alone, since it can evoke thoughts and images that are actually far from the truth.
Link to PowerPoint: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1PrXiftQ9QFixzB5uYIUDOI9m6PQ3mye13AciVlUvH38/edit#slide=id.p
Class Activity: Boston Massacre vs Incident on King Street -Mad Libs Style
Extension: How the Languages We Speak Shape the Way We Think -UCTV Seminars Video
-Video, roughly 11 minutes
Essential question: How does language shape knowledge?
Quote from source: “Each language creates its own cognitive tool kit…Linguistic diversity is a real testament to the ingenuity of the human mind.”
This additional source really showed me that language shapes knowledge very strongly, as speaking a certain language develops proficiency in particular areas. The speaker discussed that some languages use cardinal directions instead of more relative terms such as left and right, and this makes them really good at orienting themselves and navigating on a larger scale.
Meanwhile, some languages lack a defined number system, and those people cannot perform complex calculations because they don’t have corresponding language and vocabulary. This helped me see that while linguistic determinism may be an extreme, language is indeed heavy influence in determining thought, because it’s one of our primary means of stimulating ideas and generating information.
In our presentation, we showed how language obscures truth due to loaded words (bias) or ambiguity of language due to connotation. However, pursuing this extension allowed me to see the other side, which is the importance of language as a way of knowing in allowing us as humans to develop and refine our skills. Therefore, what makes language unique to other WOKs is that it can be used in plethora of ways to deceive and implant falsehood, but at the same time, its our primary avenue for thinking and developing coherent ideas.
Three essential questions explored throughout:
How does language obscure truth?
What does language reveal about human nature?
How does language shape knowledge?