TOK: Language

by 042690 on September 9, 2017

“The vagueness and ambiguity of language always limits the production of knowledge”


Personally, I disagree with the statement above. I do believe that vagueness and ambiguity of language can limit the production of knowledge but this is not always the case. For example, we can look at the AOK (Area of Knowledge) of The Arts. In lots of cases in the arts, ambiguity of language rarely limits the production of knowledge, and sometimes, it could possibly be a benefit. The Arts are often used to express our emotions and feelings which are hard to put into words or quantify. As a result, what we do is use ambitious words that convey a similar meaning to what the feelings that we want to convey. For example, in poetry, some poetry can be intentionally ambiguous so that the poem is open to interpretation, and different readers will interpret it differently. This is because due to different readers having different experiences, beliefs, cultural identities/backgrounds and more. This is where this ambiguity might be a positive. Each reader is able to develop his or her own view about the poem and everyone can gain knowledge by sharing these views with each other and explaining why certain people see certain things certain ways.

The classic example where vagueness or ambiguity of language might limit the production of knowledge would be in the AOK of Mathematics. In mathematics, ambiguity of language can limit the production of knowledge. Math is almost completely numerical and as a result, ambiguity in language would mainly come up in language used to describe problems or the different types of notation. Math has a specific term for each operation and calculation that must be done ( such as multiply, divide, expand, rationalise). This is so that mathematicians can remove all ambiguity in what they are doing so that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done in order to get the correct solution. For example, people would normally say multiply 7 by 4 (7*4) instead of accumulate 7 and 4 or proliferate 7 and 4. All three words have the same or very similar meaning according to the dictionary, but mathematicians specifically use the word multiply as it is universally used and as a result, people know exactly what to do when they are told to multiply something.

A final way that language can cause ambiguity can be seen from an activity that we did in class called “Crime in Addison”. In this activity, half the class were given a sheet of paper describing crime as a “virus that was plaguing the city of Addison” with some statistics and the other half of the class was given the same sheet of paper with the same statistics, the only difference being that crime was “preying on the city like a beast”. Both sheets of paper had eight identical options on how to tackle the issue. Because the wording was slightly different, the options chosen from both sides was also slightly different. We saw that those who had the sheet of paper that described the city of Addision as being plagued by a virus chose more long-term options as the article made it seem that the “plague” was already there and the town now had to do something to prevent it from getting worse. We also saw that those who had the other sheet of paper interpreted that the high rates of crime had not arrived yet but were arriving soon (like a beast stalking it’s prey). As a result, they took more of a short-term approach by picking solutions that would have an impact immediately and try to prevent the “beast” from entering the two all together. This little activity shows us that the even though the same facts and statistics have been presented, a few subtle language changes (such as the metaphors used in this activity) can alter our perception of an event entirely.

In conclusion, language should not be completely written off as a Way of Knowing (WOK) but like other WOKs, it does have it’s advantages and disadvantages and is better suited to be used in certain AOKs.

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