Monday, July 16, 2007

Does Language Create Reality?

Many years ago, when I taught my comp courses, I used to emphasize the idea that language creates reality. Students resisted this, even though I gave them the following "choices" to consider carefully:

Things are what we say they are!


Things are what we say they are!

The second version, with the emphasis on "say," would sum up the "Creative Theory" of language. As opposed to the "Expressive Theory," which assumes that the names given to all things - material as well as immaterial - already have the names we give them. This commonsensical view is totally erroneous. For one thing, as Ferdinand de Saussure, the famous linguist and the father of structuralism has pointed out, if words were "natural" rather than "cultural," we would all speak the same language.

In a sense we do all speak the "same" language, but different languages use different words with which to create the things and ideas the words name. The English "tree" is "Baum" in German and "arbre" in French, and so on with each different language.

So when we realize that language creates reality, we recognize the difficult to accept fact that it is through and by means of words that we see and understand (or even misunderstand) what we call "reality."


In other blogs here I shall keep exploring the many ways in which "words matter" in our lives. I shall throw light on poetry and prose (fiction, too), as well as movies - because I do consider movies to be part of literature. More of all this later.

1 comment:

Roswila said...

Congratulations on your blog's launch, Steve! And I accepted the assignment, "Teacher", and actually visited. LOL! Your point in your first post here is very well-taken. There's an idea in fantasy writing and in some magical traditions that knowing the true name of something gives you power over it; a sense that a thing/person's real name is that thing/person. I'm also for some reason reminded of Anais Nin's assertion that "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."

I look forward to being a regular visitor here.