Tag Archives: linguistics

Determinism and relativity

1.
Think about it. If your language determines your thought entirely then the entire population of speakers of a language would all think in exactly the same way. Variation of thought exist within a language/culture. Otherwise we would not need to vote in elections, have different types of cereal or have genres or music. Relative to other languages your language influences somewhat the range of your thought.

The English grammar distinguishes singular and plural. Arabic grammar distinguishes singular, dual and plural. And Japanese grammar does not distinguish number. By being forced to think about and encode number in English and Arabic, and not needing to encode in Japanese will influence your thinking.

Japanese tend to encode plurals poorly in English as a second language. More than likely, Arabic learners of English will find it easier to produce the grammar for plurality.

2.
Like bat-and-ball sportsmen who tend to pick up other bat-and-ball sports quickly, language learners from related languages also acquire the second language faster. In applied linguistics this is called positive transfer. It makes sense that transfer can be applied to other skills like sport as well. But this does not mean a sportsman cannot become good at a dissimilar sport. If things were (pre)determined then we will never need to try because there is only one outcome – failure. Language learning is partly nature, and partly nurture. Both are necessary. It is not either/or but and.

But history may proof that nature and nurture may be misnomers which have ultimately influenced our way of thinking all along.

God/Word/Saussure

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (St John, Ch. 1, v. 1)

Perhaps this is the genius of the writer of these words. God is language. End of story.

But if we take Saussure to his word then words are just a system of difference. We can conclude that God is what everything else it is not. The word God must be empty, must be a container holding meaning only inasmuch as it is a concept, never to fully have presence, eternally is God marked with absence.

air/glass/concept

there, but not
seemingly with substance

like air
invisible until smoke

and glass
transparent until rain

or god
real until conceptualised

Is it The Buddha or Buddha?

I cannot say I am a great fan of Western comics (excluding comic strips) and the medium. But one that truly had struck me as a piece of fine literature was Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (BDKR).

Different to previous Batman comics he is referred constantly to as “The Batman” throughout the story. While you may think this is a trivial matter I think it is important. Otherwise the author would not have made such an effort to be consistent. After all, that is what makes literature literature.

The point of the subtle name change is that it is to signify that this Batman is different to previous versions of the character. And indeed he is. He is an older (until BDKR the various versions of Batman had not aged), wiser, less tacky and more violent. So there is (good) justification on literary grounds for the name change.

In Buddhism (at least in English) there is a similar problem facing the believer – is it The Buddha or just Buddha? More common is the former use because the word ‘buddha’ means ‘enlightened one’. As a name, then, Buddha with a capital ‘B’ must mean ‘Enlightened One’. As the “founder” of Buddhism then it is important to distinguish him from other enlightened beings. But in English to call him ‘Enlightened One’ without the ‘The’ sounds strange as he is unique in the context of the religion. That is why we use the translated version of his name we refer to him as The Enlightened One. And by extension to call him The Buddha is more common and accurate.