NP - Thomas Dybdahl - From Grace
The last week or so I've started looking at words a lot deeper than I used to. I've been forced to, because for one of my courses (well for all of them actually), the language is very technical. Its easy to come across a term like 'intermediate macroeconomic intervention' and just glaze over it, without looking at each word individually, and then putting them together and trying to figure out what it really means.
Anyway, I've been forced to do this recently, although I really should've been doing it for years. I do two different subjects as my degree, and they are both taught quite differently. One of them is very theoretical and needs to be read three or four times and illustrated with figures and graphs and what not in order to be understood. The other discipline uses a lot of rhetoric, but asks you to be open minded about it all and apply everything to real life examples...and as such everything is much more weakly defined and less vague. Sometimes I find it difficult to reconcile these two approaches when I approach my study.
I've also taken up a language, and even though I've only been to one class so far, it got me thinking recently about the construction of language, and its schematics. When I speak english, it comes so naturally to me, people ask me how hard it is to learn and I say its a really easy language. But I've been listening to people - my German flatmate, my Sri Lankan lecturer - and trying to understand why they make the mistakes they make. Its hard to think of a language the same way you'd think of something like physics or engineering, but they really are similar I think. Languages are constructed by sub-parts - tenses, all the grammar, etc - just as anything else is. When you're learning a new language, you tend to try to translate from your own language. Keeping this in mind, I've started to look for these things in weaker english speakers. For instance, my flatmate says 'excuse me' instead of 'sorry'. They're similar, but their usage isnt 100% interchangeable.
So back to looking into words. In a lot of research papers you read, you think that they're just using pointless rhetoric for the sake of it, to try to look smart. And they probably are - but maybe they arent. I've written this whole post because I was reading a book, and the author thanks his wife for her 'patience and understanding' in reading his drafts. Simple words, patience and understanding. But for some reason when I read them this time they really hit me...he didn't just pick any words to describe his appreciation, he chose those. I think we need to be more careful with what words we use, in everything, so that when we say things, they have actual meaning. Not just sound good.
Posted by illogicist at 6:28 PM