Any Language Will Do

From [Fred Nickols (980422.1815 EDT)] --

Bruce Gregory (980421.1550 EDT)

As long as you don't care about communicating, any technical language will
do, I suppose.

As it happens, I'm reading "Language, Thought and Reality" (1956), by
Benjamin Whorf. He has something to say on that score... I give you the
opening paragraphs of "Language, Mind, and Reality" (pp.246-247)

        "It needs but half an eye to see in these latter days
        that science, the Grand Revelator of modern Western
        culture, has reached, without having intended to, a
        frontier. Either it must bury its dead, close its ranks,
        and go forward into a landscape of increasing strangeness,
        replete with things shocking to a culture-trammeled
        understanding, or it must become, in Claude Houghton's
        exquisite phrase, the plagiarist of its own past. The
        frontier was foreseen in principle very long ago, and
        given a name that has descended to our day clouded with
        myth. That name is Babel. For science's long and heroic
        effort to be strictly factual has at last brought it into
        entanglement with the unsuspected facts of the linguistic
        order. THese facts the older classical science had never
        admitted, confronted, or understood as facts. Instead,
        they had entered its house by the back door and had been
        taken for the substance of Reason itself.

        What we call 'scientific thought' is a specialization
        of the western Indo-European type of language, which has
        developed not only a set of different dialectics, but
        actually a set of different dialects. THESE DIALECTS ARE
        for instance, does not and CANNOT mean the same thing to
        a psychologist as to a physicist. Even if psychologists
        should firmly resolve, come hell or high water, to use
        'space' only within the physicist's meaning, they could
        not do so, any more than Englishmen could use in English
        the word 'sentiment' in the meanings which the similarly
        spelled but functionally different French utterance le
        sentiment has in its native French.

        Now this does simply breed confusions of mere detail that
        an expert translator could perhaps resolve. It does
        something much more perplexing. Every language and every
        well-knit technical sublanguage incorporates certain points
        of view and certain patterned resistances to widely divergent
        points of view. This is especially so if language is not
        surveyed as a planetary phenomenon, but is as usual taken
        for granted, and the local, parochial species of it used by
        the individual thinker is taken to be its full sum. These
        resistances not only isolate artificially the particular
        sciences from each other; they also restrain the scientific
        spirit as a whole from taking the next great step in
        development -- a step which entails viewpoints unprecedented
        in science and a complete severance from traditions. For
        certain linguistic patterns regidified in the dialectics
        of the sciences -- often also embedded in the matrix of
        European culture from which those sciences have sprung, and
        long worshipped as pure Reason per se -- have been worked
        to death. Even science senses that they are somehow out of
        focus for observing what may be very significant aspects of
        reality, upon the due observation of which all further
        progress in understanding the universe may hinge.

        Thus one of the important coming steps for Western knowledge
        is a reexamination of the linguistic backgrounds of its
        thinking, and for that matter of all thinking."

I can't help but think Whorf's comments apply to at least some of the
discussion here on CSG.


Fred Nickols
The Distance Consulting Company

        "The Internet offers the best graduate-level education
         to be found anywhere."