TOK Graded Assignment 1: Language as a Way of Knowing (WOK) Aristotle: “Words are a symbol of mental experience” Language is one of the main ways by which we communicate. It is a way of communicating our experiences to others surrounding as, as Aristotle once said: “Words are a symbol of mental experience. ” There are an estimated 1,013,913 words in the English language and every day we speak 7,000 to 20,000 words. After hearing these statistics, we might think that language is unlimited, but it is quite the opposite; language, has many boundaries and rules.
Its main limitation is one of the most significant boundaries known to us: words. If we take away words, what happens to language? Language does not communicate the ideas the same way. Can we really still describe an experience if there are no words to describe it? Language not only has a vocabulary boundary, but also has a specific set of rules that must be followed to help ideas come across more clearly to others. Some of these rules are grammar (syntactic), pronunciation (phonological), and rhythm (prosodic).
When words and phrases are translated, more barriers are created because in addition to the syntactic, phonological, and prosodic rules of the language, the translation barrier also arises. Some words and phrases simply cannot be translated, as they only make sense in their original language. French has many phrases and words that cannot be translated into English. Voila is a great example of this. Voila is a word we use, even in the English language; it means “there it is”. From that one word in French, we get three words in English.
We can thus conclude that “There it is” is a more frequently occurring phrase in French than it is in English. Typically if there is one word that represents what a phrase represents in another language, we can assume that the word is quite frequently occurring. In this case, it is so frequently occurring that it has even influenced the English language. Did this word not exist, both languages would be affected, as it would be much more difficult to bluntly state “there it is. ” In French, there are also multiple expressions which cannot be translated nto English. Two examples are “C’est la fin des haricots” and “Les carottes sont cuites. ” “C’est la fin des haricots” directly translated means “that’s the end of the beans,” but actually means “that’s the final straw;” “Les carottes sont cuites,” on the other hand directly translated means “The carrots are cooked,” but its literal meaning is “I’ve had it. ” Through both of these expressions, we can tell certain things about the French language and about the importance of certain things in French culture.
We can assume that the art of food has a significantly important role in the French culture as opposed to American culture. The American equivalent of each of the aforementioned phrases has nothing to do with food. The first phrase “C’est la fin des haricots” means “That’s the final straw” so we can assume that American’s have a history in farming. The second phrase: “Les carottes sont cuites” translated means “I’ve had it,” which is far more direct, so we can assume that the American language is more literal and that people are not always as creative with their idioms.
These idioms are not crucial for the English language and there are ones that have roughly the same meaning, so not having the same idioms does not have a detrimental effect on our language and knowledge. The German language also has phrases and words which cannot be translated into English. Two examples are the expression: “Neue Besen kehren gut” and the word “fremdschamen. ” “Neue Besen kehren gut is an expression which directly translated means “new brooms clean well,” but actually means that newcomers are more ambitious. This is not only true in German, just that the German language has a direct expression for it. Fremdschamen” on the other hand is a verb which means to be embarrassed for someone when they do something embarrassing. (Typically, they do not even know that they did something embarrassing. ) This word is definitely missing from the English vocabulary, as this feeling does not only exist in German. At first glance, we might think that because of this expression, German people have more sympathy than those who speak English, but in reality we all have the same compassion, we just don’t always have the right words to describe it.
Not having the phrase “Neue Besen kehren gut” in our language is not debilitating or limiting for our acquisition of knowledge because it is easy to communicate “newcomers are more ambitious” in English. “Fremdschamen” on the other hand is a word which needs a translation that has to be added to the English language, as not having this word limits our expression of our feelings and experiences. In conclusion, we can see that words play a vital role in our everyday communication. Lack thereof to describe experiences and feelings can be limiting to us and how we transmit our thoughts to others.
Just because certain phrases and words do not exist in every language however, does not mean that they do not have those experiences; they have their own way of communicating these thoughts with different words (although it may not be as effective in helping the thoughts come across). For every language there is a translation barrier to some extent, which always has an effect on us even though we may not realize it; sometimes the debilitating effect is large and sometimes there is no detriment.
Either way, when words and phrases are translated from one language into another, frequently part of the comprehension will be different than in the original language. Therefore we can conclude that languages are doors that open us up to new worlds of communication.
Works Consulted “Number of Words in the English Language: 1,013,913 | The Global Language Monitor. ” The Global Language Monitor. The Global Language Monitor, n. d. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. .