What Does it Mean to Define?
A Decoding of the Tower of Babel By Jeremy Redlien
Philosophy Senior Thesis – Spring 2009
Instructor: Dr. Achim Koeddermann
Abstract: This paper will be a look at language through the lens of transgendered/queer issues and the censorship of language. Combined, these issues should shed light on the relationship of
language to reality and our human perception of the world outside our minds. Other issues to
be addressed will be the prescriptivism and descriptivism points of view. Sources to be studied
for the paper will include, Webster’s Dictionary, Urban Dictionay, Wiki Dictionary, and Roget’s
A librarian wearing dark glasses asked him: “What are you looking for?” Hladik answered: “I am looking for god.” The librarian said to him: “God is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes of the Clementine. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have searched for this letter; I have grown blind seeking it.
(Jorge Luis Borges, The Secret Miracle)
Unless one is a hermit, one probably uses some form of language in their everyday life, but the average person probably puts very little thought into what language actually is. Philosophers, writers, and various thinkers have asked and debated many questions surrounding language throughout the centuries. Language is not an easy concept to analyze or debate as any analysis or debate will ultimately be forced to use language within such analysis or debate. The answer to the questions surrounding language often seem about as easy and fruitful as searching for God in a four hundred thousand volume library. The following two questions will be the focus of this inquiry. While I shall certainly attempt to shed insight, any definitive answers will be beyond the scope of this paper. After all, these questions have been around for ages, I am merely restating them here for posterity.
1) How important is language to human inquiry, experience, and knowledge?
As in, does language have any importance at all or is it merely a human invention for exchanging information and common experiences with little overall relevance to the outside world? In Metaphysics, one side of this debate can be considered the realist position and the other side is the anti-realist point of view. The issues that most directly relate to this question that this paper will look at, include identity with respect to transgendered issues (how do we define ourselves?), censorship (why do societies censor certain words or forms of language?) and the descriptions of possible worlds (are there any such things?).
2) How and why do we use language in the manor in the way that we do?
There are at least two different points of view on this matter. One is the prescriptivist position and the other is that of the descriptivist. Descriptivists argue that there is no correct form or use of a given language and that people can only talk about which one is more popular at a given point in time. For example, according to the descriptivist point of view, ‘aint’ would be a word, just one whose use is frowned upon by certain elements of society. Also, using ‘their’ to refer to a single individual (as was done by myself in the first sentence of this paper) would not be incorrect, it would just be an unpopular usage of the word. An online example of descriptivism would be the Urban Dictionary project. The image below is a copy of their definition of the real world:
On the other hand the prescriptivist would argue that a language has only one correct form or use and that those who differ from this correct form or use, are wrong. Examples of prescriptivism would be Webster’s Dictionary and “the blog of “unnecessary” quotation marks”. The image below is a copy of “the blog of “unnecessary” quotation marks”, which is maintained by people who argue against the use of unneeded quotation marks as well as, apparently, the use of capitol letters in titles.
Now, the arguments or conclusions that the paper will come to will be as follows:
1) Prescriptivists are incorrect in assuming that there does exist a “correct” form of a given language. The claim of the prescriptivists – that there does actually exist a correct form of a language - does not hold up under any kind of scrutiny. A counter argument could be made that we need to agree to the meaning of the words and symbols in order to understand what other people are talking about. Therefore a “correct” form of language is needed in order for communication to be effective and efficient. However, I would argue against this thinking as it is precisely because we humans are the ones making the agreement, not some sort of force beyond our knowledge. Languages are created by humans, not something that exists a priori to such agreements.
2) Language is important to human knowledge but we should be cautious when considering the knowledge that comes from language in general. The reason for this is that any language is capable of describing possible worlds, experiences, and objects whose existence cannot be verified directly by experience. People can also have experiences that are incorrect or only trivially true in that they do not correspond to what is the case outside of their minds. We think, therefore we believe that what we think, hear, see, or experience actually exists. However - as Morpheus expresses in The Matrix - if we believe that what we see, taste, touch or smell is “real” then reality becomes little more than electrical signals processed by our organic brains. Furthermore, these brains of ours are capable of error, misjudgment, and creating hallucinations and false visions. Not to mention, people are also highly capable of lying and otherwise engaging in deceit, which obviously creates problems in that we cannot always be sure when someone is telling us the truth. The flip side of this issue is as follows.
3) The pragmatic value of any given language comes from the fact that languages can describe possible worlds, experiences, and objects. A language that is limited in its abilities to describe possible worlds would be much more likely to run into scenarios that it cannot describe. This is why individuals censor language, a censor wishes to have us view the world according to their point of view, and their point of view only. Any other possibilities must be suppressed. Also, the more possible worlds that we can discuss, then the more our knowledge extends beyond our own limited experiences. The more possible worlds that we can describe, the more likely we are to realize that our experiences and knowledge can be wrong. This also applies to knowledge that we are told by other people - not just that of the censor - as we would have knowledge of possibilities other than what we have been told by others. This leads me directly to the conclusion that the most valuable language would be the one that can describe the greatest number of possible worlds. Here, I shall define possible worlds to be anything that is not the case in the “real” world, but has the potential to be so. Here, potential simply means that the existence of such a possible world would not be self contradictory. So the existence of Pegasus, given that a winged horse doesn’t lead directly to a contraction, would be considered a possible world. This is because a horse could potentially have the added property of having wings, while otherwise retaining all of the other properties related to being a horse and not become a contradiction. However, a horse that is winged and not winged in the same place and time, would violate the law of the excluded middle and thus would not be a possible world. One thing I would like to say is that to deny our experiences wholesale would cause us to deny the most likely possible world.
I also would like to note here, that there are a couple of well discussed philosophical issues related to language and its usage, that will not be discussed in depth in this paper for the reasons that this paper intends to look at the issue of language from a more pragmatic or applied point of view then that of a Metaphysician. Examples would include universals, realism vs. anti-realism, and nominalism. My reasoning is that including them in the discussions here, given the way I intend to look at language, would be too confusing in the long run to make it worthwhile.
Part 1 - Selected Historical Overview Views on Language
The Holy Bible and Language
In the story of Genesis, language plays a significant role in the plot, as well as being viewed as a powerful force in of itself. God is able to create the world in a short 6 days, merely by the command of his words. Later, Adam is shown by God all of the animals of the world and whatever name he happens to come up with is assigned to a given species. The more interesting part of the story, though, is when eating of the tree of knowledge on the advice of the dastardly serpent, Eve and Adam gain knowledge of the fact that not only do they happen to be nudists but that their nudeness is ethically wrong. They are then both banished by God from the Garden of Eden and forbidden to ever be nudists again. This later development (in addition to be very distressing to those of us who believe in the intrinsic value of nudity) shows that knowledge of what people look like naked, is something to be avoided. It seems obvious that this is one form of control of knowledge in order to control society, although this is a more a direct approach than the typical censor. Much later we will look at the issue of censorship in much more depth, but for now I will say that there is no mention of God forbidding Eve and Adam from discussing what their bodies look like without clothes with each other. For instance, at this point in the story, Eve could still be within the rules to tell Adam “well, just so you know, this is what this body part happens to look like”.
Later in the story told by Genesis, a reader will uncover the tale of the Tower of Babel, which is essentially a Biblical explanation for why the world has so many languages. In short, it seems that the Lord God did not like us uppity humans building large towers to the heavens and decided to sabotage the project by “confusing” our languages, thus making it difficult for the many people working on the Tower of Babel to communicate and thus finish the project.
The Genesis story as a whole shows the significant role that language has played in human thinking. Here, in no less an authority than the Bible, we have words being able to create the world that we live in and an explanation of how the names of how certain words came to be. In addition we are also treated to a possible explanation of how the world came to have many different languages.
The forms and The Platonic Forms
So what is a form or the Form? In The Republic, Plato has this to say about the forms:
Even so, as I maintain, neither we nor our guardians, whom we have to educate, can ever become musical until we and they know the essential forms, in all their combinations, and can recognise them and their images wherever they are found, not slighting them either in small things or great, but believing them all to be within the sphere of one art and study. (Plato, The Republic – Chapter III)
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary includes the following definition of form:
form (fôrm) n. [ME forme ( Lat. forma.] 1. The shape and structure of something. 2. The body or outward appearance of a person or animal taken separately from the face or head : FIGURE. 3. The essence of something. 4. The Mode in which a thing exists, acts, or manifests itself : KIND (a form of plant life) 5. Procedure as determined or governed by custome or regulation. 6. Manners or conduct as governed by decorum, etiquette, or custom. 7. Performance considered with regard to acknowledged criteria (a good skater with stylish form) 8. Fitness, as of an animal, with regard to health or training. 9. A fixed order of words or procedures, as in a ceremony. 10. A document with blanks for the insertion of details or information. 11. Style or manner of presenting ideas or concepts in literary or musical composition or in organized discourse (a treatise in the form of a dialogue) 12. The design, structure, or pattern of a work of art (symphonic form) 13. A model for making a mold. 14. A copy of the human figure used for modeling clothes. 15. Linotype assembled and locked up in a chase for printing. 16. A grade in a British school or in some U.S. private schools (the sixth form) 17. a. A linguistic form. b. The external aspect of words with regard to their inflections, pronunciation, or spelling (verb forms) 18. Chiefly Brit. A bench. 19. A Hare’s resting place
Roget’s Thesaurus of English words and phrases provides the following entry and synonyms on form:
form similarity 18n. copy 22n. constitute 56 vb. arrange 62vb. rule 81n. conformity 83n. convert 147vb. produce 164vb. seat 218n. form 243n. appearance 445n. educate 534vb. class 538n. record 548n. letterpress 587n. edition 589n. practice 610n. beauty 841n. fashion 848n. formality 875n. legality 953n. ritual 988n.
Webster’s Dictionary gives 19 definitions of form as a noun in addition to quite a few definitions of form as a verb. Roget’s Thesaurus lists 22 synonyms for form. The Platonic Forms are probably among the most discussed concept from Plato’s The Republic. By Plato’s account, these forms are what give shape to reality. These forms do not exist in this universe, but apart from the physical world altogether. We cannot ever know them accurately, but merely shadows of the forms as they manifest themselves in our physical reality. Webster’s and Roget’s Thesaurus account of the word form, unsurprisingly, is similar to what Plato was talking about. Webster’s includes the terms “shape”, “structure”, and “design” in its’ definition of form. Roget’s uses “appearance” and “constitute” as synonyms. The Platonic Forms, I would argue are directly related to language in quite a few way. Of significant importance for our topic of course, will be the relationship between the Forms and Mathematics, particularly in regards to the issue of Math being a language in of itself.
Saint Augustine and Shakespeare
Saint Augustine in, The Teacher – A Dialogue Between Augustine and His Son Adeodatus, argues that the form – or sign – of a word, is greater than the object or thing that the word describes, as shown in The Teacher, when Augustine makes the following argument:
I want you now to understand that things signified are of greater importance than their signs. Whatever exists on account of something else must necessarily be of less value than that on account of which it exists. (Augustine, The Teacher)
Following this point, Augustine and his son continue their discussion, with Augustine’s son putting forth his view that in some cases the sign can be greater than the object it describes, such as with the case of something that could be considered extremely revolting, like fecal matter. According to the argument the son makes, one would much rather see the word fecal matter than come into contact with the actual physical matter of fecal matter.
In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Juliet laments in regards to the fact that
Romeo has a last name that could be considered offensive to the rest of her family:
What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Both of these examples, including the stories related in the bible of Adam, and not God naming the animals and the tower of Babel, are highly suggestive that the ideas of the descriptivists have always been around in some form. For instance, if we accept the stories at face value and that early believers had believed that God had named the animals, then certainly the Prescriptivists – in theory at least – could argue that we should follow God’s command as to the proper use of language. Also, in the story of the Tower of Babel, if we believe that God really did confuse the languages of man, how could he have done so if God had intended for there to be only one correct form of human language? If an sign is greater than the object it indicates, then that sign, like the object it refers to, should be fixed. And Shakespeare is obviously on record as believing – or at least having written a character who does – that roses obviously are the same rose, no matter what sign we humans assign to them.
Part 2 – Websters, Urban Dictionary, Wiktionary, and Rogets Thesaurus on definitions and Meaning.
So what does it mean to define?” Or what is the meaning inherent with any definition? Is it all meaningless or meaningful? For more information let’s take a look at Roget’s Thesaurus of English words and phrases, Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, Wiktionary, and Urban Dictionary. Webster’s and Roget’s thesaurus could be considered examples of prescriptivist thinking, or at least, in my experience would be the sorts of resources prescriptivists would turn to in order to show someone the correct form of the English language. Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary are both examples of descriptivists projects. What is interesting about Wiktionary, is that it is clearly a descriptivist project in that all the entries are user generated and there are no overseers with the authority to create their own material. However, it is also one that tries to fit itself into the mold (or form) Webster’s Dictionary, in that it takes itself entirely seriously. Urban Dictionary on the other hand, takes itself much less seriously and does not try in any way, to mimic a more formal project.
The Meaning of ‘Meaning’
First off, the synonyms for meaning according to Roget’s Thesaurus are: “meaning relation 9n. meaning 514n. interpretation 520n. affirmative 532adj. indication 547n.” Therefore, if we are to believe Roget’s Thesaurus, to have meaning is to have a relation, indication, interpretation, or affirmation.
A digital scan of the entries on meaning, meaningful, and meaningless from Webster’s Dictionary, are as follows:
Therefore, in order to have meaning *something* must have significance, purpose, or be open to interpretation.
The entry from Wiktionary: The Free Dictionary for “meaning” is as follows:
Therefore, according to Wiktionary, to mean something is to also be significant. Also, to mean something is to have a symbolic value or to refer to the objects or concepts that a “word or phrase denotes.”
The entries on Urban Dictionary for “meaning” are as follows:
I would like to say that, according to the first definition, meaning is something entirely created by humans. The first example “God gives meaning and purpose to my life.” Shows a human using god to give significance to their lives. The second example – “I need to find out what this all means to me.” – shows someone searching for how they would interpret a situation or experience. The third – “X Happened today. This must be because of Y.” – shows meaning indicating a relation between events.
The second entry, is the more difficult to... understand, although it seems to have been intended to have been taken seriously. The definition provided of meaning is entirely circular, with meaning coming going through being enfolded (but not born or a definition) back to mean meaning.
The last entry, indicates that meaning is “the substance in which a purpose was intended for.”
Analysis of Actions/Modifiers used to describe Meaning by our sources (the number indicates how often each item was used by the source):
|1 - Signified/Significance||2||1||3|
|2 - Indication/Intentioned/Intended||1||1||1||3|
|3 - Interpreted/Interpretation||1||1||2|
|4 - Exist||2||2|
|5 - Convey||1||1|
|6 - Wishes||1||1|
|7 - To Be||1||1|
|8 - Disposed||1||1|
|9 - Specified||1||1|
|10 - Denotes||1||1|
|11 - Says||1||1|
|12 - Create||1||1|
|13 - Find||1||1|
|14 - Describes||1||1|
|15 - Purpose||1||1|
|16 - Relation||1||1|
|17 - Affirmative||1||1|
Clearly then, to have meaning is to have significance or to be what is intended or have purpose. Meaning, it seems must also be open to interpretation.
Analysis of objects used to describe Meaning by sources:
|1 - Something/Thing||4||1||1||6|
|2 - Word||1||1||2|
|3 - Value||1||1||2|
|4 - Language||1||1|
|5 - Goal||1||1|
|6 - Intent||1||1|
|7 - End||1||1|
|8 - Significance||1||1|
|9 - Manor||1||1|
|10 - Participle||1||1|
|11 - Thing||1||1|
|12 - Meaning of Life||1||1|
|13 - Objects||1||1|
|14 - Concepts||1||1|
|15 - State||1||1|
|16 - World||1||1|
|17 - Substance||1||1|
|18 - Purpose||1||1|
|19 - Phrase||1||1|
Interestingly enough, it seems that meaning can be attached to any number of things or somethings. The list here is pretty long, with something/thing winning by a long shot.
To Define ‘Definition’
Now what does it mean to define? As of May 20th, Urban Dictionary had 18 entries for Definition. One was from a descriptivist point of view:
One was from a prescriptivist point of view:
Some, like the following two, presumed that the definition of ‘definition’ was obvious and belittled anyone attempting to define ‘definition’:
To find some serious definitions on Urban Dictionary, I had to look up ‘define’. The first three entries are as follows and - in my opinion - were also the best:
Thus, according to Urban Dictionary, we have ‘define’ being described as an explanation, or to be equivalent to meaning.
Roget’s Thesaurus gives the following synonyms for define as, “define specify 8vb. limit 236vb. interpret 520vb. name 561vb.” and the entry for definition is “definition limit 236n. interpretation 520n. perspicuity 567n. theology 973n.”. Here, definition is given to be a limit, interpretation, and a name. I also find theology to be an interesting synonym for “definition”, as it seems to imply a religious significance to the act of defining.
The following is the entry for ‘define’ from Websters’s:
Webster’s also defines’ define to be meaning, a description, or an outline or form of a word.
The entry for “define” on Wiktionary is as follows:
Thus, according to Wiktionary, to define is to determine, express, state, or describe, explain, or demark, whatever it is we are defining.
Analysis of Actions Modifiers by above sources for ‘Define’ (the number indicates each instance of use by source):
|1 - Explain/Explanation||1||1||3||5|
|2 - Meaning/Means||1||3||4|
|3 - Limit||1||1||2||4|
|4 - Interpret/Interpretation||2||2|
|5 - Specify||1||1||2|
|6 - Describe||1||1||2|
|7 - Nature||1||1||2|
|8 - Outline||1||1||2|
|9 - Definite||1||1||2|
|10 - Impart||1||1|
|11 - Clarity||1||1|
|12 - Resolution||1||1|
|13 - Name||1||1|
|14 - Theology||1||1|
|15 - State||1||1|
|16 - Precise||1||1|
|17 - Basic Qualities||1||1|
|18 - Delineate||1||1|
|19 - Form||1||1|
|20 - Fix||1||1|
|21 - Distinguish||1||1|
|22 - Basic Qualities||1||1|
|23 - Characterize||1||1|
|24 - Serve||1||1|
|26 - Express||1||1|
|27 - Essential||1||1|
|28 - Clear||1||1|
|29 - Demark||1||1|
Here then, to define is to explain, mean, or limit, which were the most common actions/modifiers used among the sources. Limit would probably be the hands down winner if we included synonyms such as, delineate, fix, distinguish, or demark in the list.
Analysis of the objects that could be Defined according to the sources:
|The Objects||Websters||Wiktionary||Urban Dictionary||Total|
|1 - Word/Sense of Word||1||2||3|
|2 - Concept||1||1||2|
|3 - Something||1||1||2|
|4 - Beliefs||1||1|
|5 - Materials||1||1|
|6 - Law||1||1|
|7 - Oneself||1||1|
|8 - Purpose||1||1|
|9 - Sign||1||1|
|10 - Symbol||1||1|
|11 - Area||1||1|
Here word, concept, and something were the most common objects that, according to our sources, could be used to ascribe a definition to.
However, it is interesting when the most common descriptions of define and mean are combined into one list:
Therefore, to define something is to also explain it, but an explanation (at least according to the above sources) has very little to do with meaning. The same goes for limit, nature, outline, and definite. We can assume then – that if our sources are correct – that we try to limit when we create definitions but not when we ascribe meaning to something.
Now, signified, significance, indications, and exist are all ascribed as properties of meaning, but not to definitions. Also, no source used ‘define’ (or an equivalent term, such as definition) to describe meaning. Perhaps it to be assumed then that our definitions are not as significant as what we mean or indicate by our definitions?
|Word/Sense of Word||2||3||5|
Here, meaning is ascribed to “something” – as is define – but at a much more significant rate. Both meaning and definitions can be ascribed to words, although the one more instance that words can be ascribed to definitions is significant or it might not be. Meaning is also ascribed to value twice, but not at all to define. Here it seems as well that the sources are ascribing a greater intrinsic worth to meaning that is not being ascribed to definitions. Also, not only was the ambiguous terms ‘something’ and ‘thing’ used as objects that could be ascribed meaning to far more often than ‘define’ but the total number of objects was significantly greater as well. 19 for meaning, 11 for define. So then, is to define something, to limit the meaning of the object that we are defining? After all, to ‘define’ was ascribed the term ‘limit’ – or some synonym – far more than meaning was.
Part 3 - The Censorship of Words
Language and Censorship in Real Life
Censorship on the part of the authorities is not a new issue. Webster defines a censor as being “One authorized to examine material, as literature or plays, and remove or suppress anything considered objectionable.” Censorship of objectionable materials, according to the standards of societies or authorities of a given time, probably originated back during the time of cave paintings. However there are some recent examples that should prove useful as far as a discussion on language and reality goes. On the Federal Communication Commission’s website, in regards to their policies for enforcing complaints against profanity, the FCC states that:
The FCC vigorously enforces this law where we find violations. In 2004 alone, the FCC took action in 12 cases, involving hundreds of thousands of complaints, assessing penalties and voluntary payments totaling approximately $8,000,000. The Commission has also toughened its enforcement penalties by proposing monetary penalties based on each indecent utterance in a broadcast, rather than proposing a single monetary penalty for the entire broadcast. (http://www.fcc.gov/eb/oip/)
Clearly then, an agency of our own government strongly believes that the mere utterances of profanity merits strong legal action and eight million dollars worth of fines. However, what about other types of objectionable content, such as extreme violence? Certainly many parents might wish that their kids never should be exposed to the sorts of behaviors that kids should not be partaking of in the first place? In regards to their policies on violence in television programming, the FCC also state on their website:
Does the FCC regulate violence on television? The FCC does not currently regulate the broadcast of violent programming. On July 28, 2004, however, the FCC opened an inquiry into violent programming and its effect on children. The FCC has received public comments and opinions from many segments of the public. The FCC will publish and make available the report resolving the inquiry on the FCC website. (http://www.fcc.gov/eb/oip/FAQ.html#TheLaw)
So while the mere use of profane words is worth eight million dollars in “voluntary fines”, the depiction of violence in television programming is merely worth an “open inquiry”. These statements illustrate that the FCC is far more worried about the use of offensive language than with the depictions of offensive behavior. These examples, show at the very least the ability of language to dictate government policy. In addition I think they also do a good job in showing the power of language in general.
Another example of the censorship of language comes from the online fantasy role playing game, Runescape, which I play regularly. Recently the people in charge of the game made several changes to their policies in regards to what words would be blocked by the games ‘chat filter’. These changes were primarily the removing of many words that had previously been banned. This meant that players of the game could now use many offensive words that had been censored prior to their unblocking by the people in charge of the game.
Below are a few images of the chat filter in action. Note that I’m using the French server and talking with another person, screen name Thkya. De Thkya would mean From Thkya, A Thkya would be To Thkya or what I am saying. The words that were censored either entirely or partially include: “queer”, “gay”, and “censorship”, although censorship might have been because of using the French server, as the person I was talking to reported (in a part of the chat not pictured here) that the term ‘censorship’ was not censored on her end of the chat.
Certain individuals, most notably parents whose kids played the game, were rather upset by these changes to the chat filter at the time that said changes were made. An article on one fan site known as Tip.it Runescape Help (www.tip.it/runescape) published an article written in response to those parents who were upset by these changes. Part of the article is as follows:
This is the first time I have ever seen parents truly outraged. It’s fascinating. Some are livid over “Suck and Crap.” Combined those might make a laughable schoolyard insult, but these parents who are tired of hearing “Lick me, Hoe” or “Nice ass” Or “Suck my ass," are the same ones who don't seem to mind if their little darlings fight religious wars, kill guards, combat or even cast magic and partake in "paganism", be able to drink beer and other alcoholic drinks, use potions drugs to improve their skills, etc. These are the folks who are going nuts because they might see "suck my ass?" (Catherby Curmudgeon, “Split Personalities - Chat Censor”)
I would like to point out that there is one difference between the scenarios described here in regards to the game that could explain the rancor. The drinking, paganism and combat are all virtual, performed by avatars in a make believe environment. However, if I insult someone, the language and words I use are virtually the same if I use them in a personal email, chat program, or letter or say them to someone else’s character in a game. The meaning of our words are almost exactly the same regardless of the method of communication. The other activities, the ones performed in the virtual game environment are otherwise very different than if I perform them in real life. For example, if I use a battle ax, wielded by my virtual avatar to “kill” another virtual character, the activity is much different than if I were to strike down another person with a real ax in the real world. The former at worst, could be construed as an insult, the latter is a very serious crime. But if I say “F*** off, jerk” there is almost no change in meaning if I say this straight to a persons’ face or in a virtual gaming environment. The language is understood to be the same in all related contexts. The symbols we use to experience language change very little from email to chat program to game.
So, as for the censorship of television programming goes, the writers can have their characters make offensive statements or perform offensive actions. One of these is censored by the FCC, the other is not. If parents wanted their kids to emulate one form of behavior over another, why would they want their kids emulating the offensive actions, the most common I would imagine being violence, sexual promiscuity, or drug use? Would parents want their kids uttering the occasional four letter word or would they prefer if their kids were snorting cocaine, beating each other up, or having promiscuous sex? Probably though, parents would also not want their kids lobbying insults at their friends. There is after all a difference between insulting someone and using naughty language. Merely using offensive language or even having two characters swear insults at each other on a TV program – where the actors know that the insults are not meant – is different from yelling offensive terms that are intended to emotionally hurt or belittle another person. Although I do wish that the chat filter was optional as was suggested, as censoring the terms “queer” and “gay” deeply disturbs me.
Language and Censorship in Fiction
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many artists, afraid of having the tools of their trade limited, have responded to the issue of censorship in a myriad of ways. In 1984, the well known dystopian novel set in a society where the every move of its citizens is monitored and observed, George Orwell had one of his characters describe an attempt to modify the language wholesale as follows:
‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well—better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning, or “ doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words—in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? (George Orwell, 1984)
Here, in a misguided attempt to add additional layers of control and monitoring to its’ citizens, the government of 1984 embarked on a campaign to limit the language that individuals could use to communicate. Here, the government of 1984 is clearly placing a high value on language as a whole, even going so far as to add it as another tool in their arsenal against “thoughtcrime”. The government of 1984 wished to control everything about the populace it governed. In many ways through-out the novel, from the ways history is carelessly re-written to fit the needs of the ruling party to the slogans this party uses to disorientate the populace, language seems to be its strongest tool in its efforts to prevent an insurrection or uprising. The narrator of 1984 - whose job for the party is to perform some of the actual re-writing of history whenever it is requested of him - at one point in the novel muses:
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.
If that is granted, all else follows.
(George Orwell, 1984)
Notice that, according to the narrator, one method of control involves the ruling party asking individuals to ignore empirical evidence, thereby allowing this party to control all of the information that the citizens receive. Once this is obtained, it is clear that the ruling party of 1984 believes that they will become omnipotent. The formula is clear; absolute control of language and information = absolute power. To this last bit, Orwell might add; which leads to absolute corruption. There is no middle ground, those who control the information we can access affect our perception and in turn, create a prison cell for our reality.
This theme is continued in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which describes a terrifying world where books are burned and true pleasure is equated with ignorance. In the following selection from the story, a fire captain speaking to another firefighter Montag, the intrepid protagonist of the story, gives this argument in favor of burning books:
If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular sons or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide rule, measure, and equate the universe , which just won't be measured or equated without making a man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I've tried it; to hell with it. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)
Once again we see control of information being used to control the population. The government is not only promoting the normative value of shallow happiness being the ultimate goal for individuals, but also blinding to them to the possibility that there is any other kind of existence but one that allows for the government to continue to be in power. When no other alternatives for a government are known to its subjects, then obviously they would never could conceive of a reason for starting a rebellion or perhaps even know that there is such a thing as rebellion that they could begin and thus threaten the existence of the government in power. Once again the equation is simple, control of information resulting in an ignorant population directly leads to control of that population. We can only know what we can experience or what we are told by others and our experience is limited to begin with.
Part 4 – Gender and Identity
Labels We Use for Ourselves.
My name is Jeremy Lawrence Redlien. I am attracted to those who look and act more like me, then those who don’t; in other words I am gay man. I am a philosophy major at SUNY Oneonta. I grew up in Otego, NY and graduated from Unatego Jr. Sr. High in 2002. My gender identity, for the sake of providing a label, would be masculine. I’m a complete book worm, love reading anything by Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry, or Bruce Coville, and could watch episodes of The X-Files on DVD for days without becoming bored.
Our identity can be considered so important, that there’s even a term Identity Crisis in Webster’s which is given as:
1. A psychosocial state of disorientation and role confusion occurring esp. in adolescents because of conflicting pressures and expectations. 2. A state of disorientation and role confusion occurring in a social structure, as in an institution.
Webster also defines identity as:
1. The collective aspect of the characteristics by which a thing is distinctly recognizable or known. 2. The set of behavior or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
Thus, at least according to Webster’s, identity is a collection of traits and not based on a single criteria. Remove any of the items from the list above, even my fanaticism for The X-Files, and I become an entirely different person. Metaphysicians have debated the question for ages, with mixed results. My observation, after having taking a course in Metaphysics, is that the questions that are asked – either with regard to identity or any other Metaphysical issue - have become overly complex and more a matter of language games then about what actually is the case. The implications, in my opinion, is that the issues raised by the Metaphysicians are more intriguing as a matter of intellectual exercise but rarely do their questions have any practical implications.
The Issue of Identity and Gender
I have, during the course of my experiences, had the opportunity to met and interact with a wide variety of people who consider themselves Transgender. While, from what I understand having taken several workshops related to my place of employment – the previously mentioned Gender and Sexuality Resource Center – that the term Transgender is the preferred term of use for people with non-traditional gender orientations, identities, or presentation. Transsexual on the other hand, at least according to my boss, is more of a clinical term used by psychologists to describe cross-dressing individuals, usually men.
However, Webster doesn’t include the term at all, but does include the term transsexual, defined as “1. One predisposed to become a member of the opposite sex. 2. One whose sex has been changed externally by surgery and by hormone injections.”
It is worth noting that, based on what I had learned in these workshops that this definition doesn’t even come close to describing the full spectrum of individuals who identify as trans that exist. By the way, Webster’s short entry for Trans is as follows, “trans– pref. [(Lat. trans, beyond, through.] 1. Across : on the other side : beyond (transpolar) 2. Through (transcutaneous) 3. Change : transfer
Urban dictionary is a little bit more informed on the issue, with a total of 7 entries for transgender, the first entry as follows:
Wiktionary also includes an entry as well:
So, it’s worth noting then that our two descriptivist sources both included definitions of transgender, but Webster’s (at least the one that was used) did not . This could be do the fact that publishing costs are usually much less on the internet then for printed materials.
Now, according to what was discussed in the workshops I attended, trans can also be used to refer to the spectrum of individuals who, for whatever reason, do not conform to societal norms in regards to gender. For example, a person who is biologically male, but dresses and behaves like societies interpretation of a proper women, would be considered trans, even if they never took hormones or had surgery. Based on what was discussed in these workshops, it was brought up that the vast majority of individuals who are transgendered, don’t have surgery, and many more don’t do hormone therapy. A different form of a trans individual, would be the gender-fuck, whereby a person refuses to conform to any societal norm in regards to what society deems proper gender presentation or behavior. Quite often these individuals will dress, at the same time, in a deliberately provocative manor that will often conform to the proper presentation of both genders or neither.
A couple of points of clarification. It is worth noting that I really do not fit into the role of a trans individual that well. My gender identity and presentation is – for the most part – masculine. However, I am gay, but that does not cause me to fall neatly into the role of a transgendered individual. The issues raised by the existence of trans individuals also throws a neat little wrench into our definitions of sexual orientation. Webster’s entry for sexual orientation is as follows, “sexual orientation n. The direction of one’s sexual interest toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes.” Note the reference to both sexes, implying by default that there are only two. Also, according to Webster the entry on homosexuality is as follows, “ho-mo-sex-u-al-i-ty (hō’ mō-sĕk’ sho-ol-al’ ĭ-tē) n. 1. Sexual orientation to persons of one’s own sex. 2. Sexual activity with another the same sex.” Now then, how would someone who has transitioned from being a male to a female be classified who has, throughout their life been exclusively attracted to women throughout their life? What about the person who they date, go out with or make love with? There are other cases, such as with an individual that I met, who for all intents and purposes, was born biologically male, never took hormones or had any kind of modification surgery, yet describes herself as a lesbian.
The Occurrence of Intersex and its Relation to Issues of Transgender
A related issue, is that of occurrences of the condition of intersex in certain people. An Intersex individual is a person who due to chromosomes or indeterminate genitalia, have a body that doesn’t quite match up with what doctors consider the “norms” for people. Intersex individuals are not, technically speaking, transgendered, although there are quite a few overlapping issues. People who are born intersex, usually are operated on at birth or a very young age, in order to make them “fit” into one gender or another. This is what happened to one individual described in “Sex, Gender, and Letter to Myself”. This essay from That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation was made up of three parts, “Dyke on Dyke Cruising”, “Dialogue Transcript for Intersex Exposition: Full Monty”, and “Shameless Letters”. The following excerpt is from “Dialogue Transcript for Intersex Exposition: Full Monty” and is narrated by a person who was operated on:
It’s an intersex condition. It’s a condition that describes me as a persyn that’s less than clearly male or female. That was when this scar was first opened. And my clitoris having grown a little bit – the doctors decided to create me as someone who was gonna look like a female for the rest of my life – and hopefully never question that. So they not only opened this scar and did an exploratory operation to see what was inside. But they also cut my clitoris, or my penis – whatever you might – whatever you wanna call it – to make it more like what they would call a kind of like – an okay looking clitoris. Something that wouldn’t be questionable as a clitoris. (pg 182 “Dialogue Transcript for Intersex Exposition: Full Monty” Elias – Sembessakwini)
Here, we see the standards of what gender is “acceptable” for someone to be, defined by an outside source, namely doctors who seem to believe that gender must be a binary classification. The doctors described here, seem to think that it is impossible for someone to be neither male or female based on what could have either been a “penis... or an okay looking clitoris”. This kind of thinking can have many consequences and legal ramifications. Since our modern languages tend to limit themselves to only two descriptions of gender, does that cause us to automatically believe that there can only be two genders? This is not an entirely academic issue.
In a legal court case that nullified the marriage of “W” on the basis that “W” would have been – based on medical standards at the time of the court case - registered as a female at birth rather than as a male as “W” was – which of course “W” was. This provides a real life example of the importance of definitions. The court case was discussed in a Press for Change article by Christine Burns “Measuring Sex in Centimeters”, which expressed a certain outrage against the decision. In “Measuring Sex in Centimeters” Burns argues against the kind of thinking that went into this decision on the grounds that determining a person’s gender on the grounds of penis size, as opposed to an extra large clitoris, is completely arbitrary. A decision that Burns compares to the changing of seasonal fashions, such as hemlines.
The following quote from the article suggests why Burns thinks such a decision, on the part of a court of law or a doctor, might be made and also proposes that the way that identity should be defined is by the individual in question:
Maybe picking people’s sexes is the ultimate power trip for some; a controlling political act which makes absolutely clear who owns your body, your life. And in its’ attempts to cling on to some sort of physical evidence to deny the voice of the individual concerned in the matter, the judiciary ultimately corrupts itself, putting easily discredited pseudo measures of masculinity and femininity before the one piece of evidence which ultimately counts.
The one most remarkable piece of evidence is that trans people have always been, and remain, so clear about who they are in the face of such daunting opposition. “I think, therefore I am” has an added poignancy for anyone who has trodden this road to make that most fundamental of statements of identity.
Only I know who I am, and the only way that YOU are going to know is by what I tell you. That’s the long and … er … the short of it all. (http://pfc.org.uk/node/278)
Clearly this is an argument that our identity should be chosen by ourselves, not an outside source, such as modern medicin or a court of law. Are there any reasons at all that we should allow ourselves to be defined by an outside source? Not that I can see. No one else can ever experience things exactly the way that I have or have seen the world from my point of view. Why should we then be forced to allow our identities to be chosen by someone else? Remember that according to Webster’s, identity is the total sum of one’s parts even though this dictionary doesn’t provide quite enough pieces to even begin construction of many individuals.
The Impact of Definitions on the Gay Rights Movement
In “Breaking Glass: An Introduction” to That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, Mattilda, AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore wrote the following:
Well... there’s nothing like the real thing... baby. I wanted to give you, dear reader, a glimpse of how assimilation robs queer identity of anything meaningful, relevant, or challenging – and calls this progress. Twenty years (or even ten years) ago, one might not have imagined the largest national gay rights lobbying group (Human Rights Campaign) endorsing a right-wing Republican Senatorial candidate (Al D’Amato in New York, 1998), or the San Francisco Pride parade adopting the Budweiser advertising slogan as its official theme (2002) [...] By the twisted priorities of this gay mainstream, it’s okay to oppose a queer youth shelter because it might interfere with “community” property values, or to enact neighborhood “beautification” programs that require the wholesale arrest of homeless people, transgendered people, sex workers, youth, people of color, and anyone else who might get in the way of a whitewashed gayborhood. (Mattilda, pg. 3)
Here Mattilda argues that how the gay rights movement defined itself ultimately impacted the way it functioned at a very basic level. By limiting their definitions of what they stood for, The Human Rights Campaign and the San Francisco Pride parade, had a negative impact on many groups, (homeless people, the transgendered, sex workers, people of color, etc.) that they should have been standing up for. By narrowing the definition of those what they stood for, these movements ended up ignoring individuals that they had originally stood up for.
In “Legalized Sodomy is Political Foreplay”, from That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, Patrick Califia discusses how legalizing sodomy, as was done by the United States Supreme Court in June of 2003, was not the victory that the gay movement thought it to be. Hir reasons for this argument was that legalizing sodomy only scratched the surface of a problem that went much deeper. Yes, the limits of legal sexual practices had been expanded to include sodomy, but that did not mean that this expansion of what practices were defined to be legal went far enough. Califia (a transgendered individual) discusses the difficulties faced by a wide variety of individuals in the United States - and elsewhere - that fall outside the spectrum of what society considers or has defined to be normal. In the following excerpts Califia discusses his identity and the impact of the repealing of anti-sodomy laws on his sexual life:
I’m a queer freak. I’m a promiscuous, bisexual, female-to-male transsexual and a sadomasochist. Do you mind if I grope your ass, lick your ear, and whisper, “Since my dick isn’t long enough to go up somebody’s ass, is it all helpful to me to know ass-fucking is now as legal as taking fertility drugs to conceive a litter of southern Baptists?” You didn’t say no, so I’m at least innocent of sexual harassment. (Califia, “Legalized Sodomy is Political Foreplay”)
Here, since the law has not been defined to include the kinds of sexual activities that Califia engages in, the changes to include anal sex have become meaningless. Hir also discusses in his essay how police still raid bars known for patrons who engage in BDSM type activities, similar to how known gay bars would be raided prior to the Stonewall Riots. Much as I would like to, this is not to make the argument that BDSM activities should be legalized, but rather to show that how we choose our definitions (in this case – legal definitions) can have real life consequences. Definitions are in many cases limits and where we choose to draw those limits is important. There are clear dangers presented by narrowing our language beyond the possibilities of only two genders and only a few types of governmentally approved sexual intercourse.
Part 6 – Language and Our Perspective of the World – What We Know from Language
It is more correct to say that in Paradise, Aurelian learned that, for the unfathomable divinity, he and John of Pannonia (The Orthodox believer and the heretic, the abhorrer and the abhorred, the accuser and the accused) formed one single person. (Jorge Luis Borges, The Theologians)
From my perspective, there are other people out in the world outside my mind that seem to have had similar experiences to my own. I can say this because we use language to communicate with each other to share these experiences. Thus language becomes a way of communicating our common experiences. An experience that is not shared among two people in any fashion will be unable to communicate said experience, unless there are enough aspects of that experience that the two people share in common. For example, if a group of aliens on a desert planet had never seen ice because no part of their planet ever went below freezing, they probably would not develop a word for ice and thus astronauts from earth would not be able to communicate with these aliens when talking about ice, at least in the early stages of such contact. It is also worth noting that it is impossible for any two people to have the exact same experience, due to the different perspectives that they have.
Common definitions of words are also important for communication. For instance, in the example of aliens from another planet, for them ‘cold’ could mean anything below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while 95 degrees Fahrenheit would still be quite toasty for us. If we do not first define a common frame of reference for a debate, then we will probably end up debating two unrelated positions. Or we could end up inadvertently debating the same position because we are using two different frames of reference. This is analogous to the hapless men who were locked in a lifelong battle, in short story The Theologians by Jorge Luis Borges, only to discover in the end that their apparently divergent positions were exactly the same.
One of the postulates of Einstein’s theory of Relativity, is that there is no best or absolute frame of reference and that the only constant in our universe is the speed of light in a vacuum. We can define an axis on a graph to be either positive or negative, much as we can see it is legal to drive on the right hand side of the road or the left hand side. In Relativity Theory, we can define an initial frame of reference to best suit our needs. Commonly in our culture the left axis is defined as negative and the right axis of a graph to be positive, but these do not have to be defined as such, much like many countries have made it legal to drive on either the left hand side of the road or the right side of the road. The only problem that could be develop is if there was no legal side of the road to drive on or an axis were unlabeled within a particular context that left in doubt which one was positive or negative.
We believe ourselves to have the ability to be objective. Indeed much of the pursuit of science seems to be based on this ideal of “pure objectivity”. But is this ideal really possible? In this passage from Holding the Line, author Barbara Kingsolver offers her perspective on the topic:
True objectivity may only be possible for those who do not care in the least what happens next, and have formed no expectations – an undirected camera snapping at random, the sound and the fury, a tale told by an idiot.[...] And in every science, journalism included, the things that one expects – or hopes for – will inevitably influence one’s perception of the outcome. Believing themselves the very soul of objectivity, nineteenth-century scientists measured men’s and women’s skulls of various races and constructed a hierarchy of brain size and intelligence – with Caucasian men settled comfortably at the top. Scientists who measure those same skulls now are baffled by their predecessors’ results, as no such concrete differences seem to exist. (Barbara Kingsolver, Holding the Line - Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983)
If we rely solely on empirical data then obviously our perspective is subject to distortion. This can happen not just from pre-conceived bias, but from any number of other factors, which can be referred to quite simply as “observer error”. Our perspective is limited by where we stand; we cannot see the whole universe. The only possibility for an objective perspective would be the ability to see and understand all possibilities.
Part 7 - Mathematics as Language
The idea that Mathematics is a language in of itself is not a new one. Nor is it a new idea that Math is the basic language of the Universe. Both ideas have been around for quite awhile and has been discussed by many notable mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers. In the following passage from his Metaphysics Aristotle discusses the idea - which he attributes to the Pythagoreans - that the basic property of the universe is that of numbers:
... and since they saw the attributes and ratios of musical scales in numbers, and other things seemed to made in the likeness of numbers in their entire nature, and numbers seemed to be primary in all nature, they supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things that are. (Airistotle, Metaphysics)
The idea also crops up in Contact by Carl Sagen. The plot of the novel has a radio astronomer, Ellie Arroway, discovering a radio signal sent by an alien civilization to Earth that is essentially the instruction manual for building a space craft capable of traveling between the stars. The message had been encoded in such a way that it could be understood by anyone capable of understanding Mathematical thought. Therefore the characters in the story are perfectly capable of decoding the message. It’s an interesting thing to think about, is Math really powerful enough, that an extraterrestrial could communicate with us with little more than radio signals and Math? There seems little reason to think not.
One argument I would like to make though, is in regards to possible worlds. If Mathematics is not capable of describing all possible worlds, then it would remain possible that Math could not describe our own world entirely. Yet, I have not heard of any evidence that Math is not in fact completely capable of describing our physical universe entirely. It seems that by being able to break down arguments and properties into their most basic forms, Math has the ability to describe an infinite array of possibilities. Furthermore, since we defined at the beginning that possible worlds must follow the rule of non-contradiction. That is properties in these worlds cannot contradict themselves. Since these possible worlds must follow logical principles and Mathematics is also capable of describing any logical principle, then it follows that Math is capable of describing all possible worlds. Those who are familiar with the work of Gottlob Frege and his Logicist Project will recall that he tried to reduce Mathematics to Logic, not the other way around. Logic seemed to be easily enough reducible to Math, to not be worth the effort.
Let us now take a look at a logical argument. It is commonly given in logic that p → q means that “If p then q”. So it is worth noting the obvious here that p and q have to be defined or limited to be something in the real world. That is we must say that “p” is defined to be or limited to cases of “when it is raining outside” and “q” is limited to cases of “Pegasus exists” in order for the statement to have any meaning. Now, “p → q” is not false in of itself. “p → q” generally speaking, can only be false once we have limited or defined what “p” and “q” are going to be. This is generally true of any logical arguments. Therefore, I would like to ask, can logical statements have any meaning then if there was no such thing as definitions? The situation is analogous to the faux amis. The faux amis – roughly translated as “false friends” in English – are words in French that either look or sound like certain English words, but have completely different meanings in French. The symbols, letters, and sounds can be the same – or very similar – but the meaning of the symbols, letters, and sounds, can change from language to language, depending on how they were limited or defined by a culture.
I would like to also point out that it is entirely that there are possible worlds where Pegasus does exist and its existence is dependent on there being rain outside, as the property of there being rain outside does not negate that the property that horses have wings. However most peoples’ experiences lead us to conclude that “If it is raining outside, then Pegasus exists.” Since our experience tells us that “(p → q)” where p and q are defined as before, then by the law of the excluded middle, there can be no case in our world where (p → q) is true. However, it is only because of our experiences that we can make such a conclusion, not because “If it is raining outside, then Pegasus exists” is self contradictory statement. Therefore, there should be a possible world where Pegasus exists because of the fact that it is raining outside. Our experience merely tells us that this is not the case in ours.
Part 8 - Criterion for An Ideal Language
Now in light of all that has been discussed in this paper, I would like to offer a few criteria for an ideal language:
1) Must be based in experience or be able to describe what we experience accurately and be able to convey those experiences efficiently to others.
Remember, our experiences are the most likely possible world.
2) Must be able to describe the greatest number of possible worlds or experiences.
Remember, without experience, any purely symbolic statement, such as (p → q), becomes entirely devoid of meaning. This then begs the question, can Math only describe a world that in a manner that is purely abstract, and therefore devoid of meaning? Math can talk about any possible world, therefore we just have to be careful to define, indicate, or limit which possible worlds that we are talking about with Math.
Any language that is limited in this ability is going to lose all possibility of objectivity. For instance how would we know the difference between a four foot long board and a five foot long board, if our language only allowed us the possibility to talk about boards under 3 feet in length? This leads to the conclusion that the best languages are those that can describe the greatest number of possible worlds. This is also the danger presented by the censor. Like the prescriptivist, the censor wishes to limit the ways that languages can be used, providing only one governmentally or society approved language for use. For example “fuck” is one of those words whose use is limited by the FCC. Remove it altogether, and your language has lost one possible way of describing a way of sexual lovemaking.
However, since we assumed or defined to be, at the beginning, that all possible worlds must be non-contradictory, what about the alternative, where possible worlds might have contradictory elements? However any possible worlds that have contradictory elements should not be able to exist due said elements.
So far in this paper we've looked at a historical perspectives on language, what various dictionaries and one thesaurus have to say on what it means to define, the censorship of language, both in real life and in fictional narratives, as well as, trans issues and language. Then we looked at a few criteria for an ideal language. The conclusions that the paper came to are as follows:
- That language is potentially questionable source of pure information, that is when said information is coming from others. After all people can lie or use language to be deliberately misleading. Also, since language has no set or 'correct' form from the get go, we have to be careful that we agree to a given form before we can communicate.
- That any language that has been limited or censored by any authority is a useless language, as it will automatically have lost its ability to describe certain possible worlds, and therefore will have lost all potential for objectivity. It is clear that what motivates the censor is that he or she only wants their own version of the truth to be known or available. Prescriptivism is a form of censorship, as it seeks to eliminate any version of a language that is not viewed as the 'correct' form of a language. What we saw with our look at Transgendered and Gay issues, this limiting of language is not merely an academic problem, it has real life consequences. As funny as "the blog of unnecessary quotation marks" can be, it's underlying motives are mildly disturbing.
- That the most useful language is one that has the ability to describe the most possible worlds. This leads directly to the conclusion that the ideal language is that of mathematics, as it has the ability - through its capability to simplify concepts to their most basic forms - to describe the greatest number of possible worlds. I should say, that at least math has the ability to do this when compared to other languages. It could be said that Mathematics has the ability to be Barbara Kingsolver’s proverbial “camera snapping at random”. Although we should be careful to be sure that it does not become “sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot”, which is what it mathematics and meaning would become without limits and definitions.
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