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sabato 28 agosto 2010

Language Is Understanding

"What a man cannot state he does not perfectly know, and conversely the inability to put his thoughts into words sets a boundary to his thought... . English is not merely the medium of our thought; it is the very stuff and process of it."—Report of the Departmental Committee on the Teaching of English in England ; H. M. Stationery Office (1921)

A man may have a notion but the only way of determining the value of such an impression is to express it in words, and then, and only then, can he grasp the substance of the idea. And if an author omits this step, the risk is that the idea will not be rational but fanciful. So not even the author knows what an idea is until it is clearly expressed in words, a quality which makes language the essence of understanding. Diagrams and pictures may be used to support words, but it is the words that contain the idea. (see also) Hence:

1. Language is the expression of thought, with the translation of notions into words being the act of understanding.

2. The understanding of an idea can be improved by simplifying the words used to express the idea.

3. The understanding of an idea can be improved by shortening the number of words used to express the idea.

4. The exercise of improving the expression of an idea, is the improvement of the understanding of that idea.

5. The more plain the use of language, the more clearly an idea is revealed. The more clearly an idea is revealed, the better the understanding of that idea.

6. If an idea cannot be expressed in plain English, it cannot be understood.

— which is why all English speaking citizens should strive to use plain English in their thoughts as well as their communications.

Nevertheless language is merely a discipline where meaning is created by the universal adoption of the rules of spelling and grammar. So:

i. Clear thinking is disciplined thinking while confused thinking is undisciplined thinking.

ii. The less discipline a man reveals in the use of language, the less disciplined are his thoughts and the less reliable are his opinions.

iii. Improvement in the discipline of a man's use of language must reflect an improvement in the discipline of that man's thoughts. Whereas decay in the discipline of a man's use of language must reflect decay in the discipline of that man's thoughts.

Hence the crucial importance of mastery of the use of language, both to the individual and to the community. And the only way such mastery can be maintained is by regular exercise; that is by frequent discussion, reading, writing or speeches. Otherwise not only will the mastery of language decay, but also understanding.

Language is also tradition, for it is tradition that establishes the words, spelling and grammar; hence it is tradition that forms the basis of communal understanding, so the corruption of tradition is the corruption of communal understanding.

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