“Thought can’t go where the roads of language have not been built.” -Terence McKenna
Words hold the magic of world-creation, yet so often we overlook the power they hold.
So powerful are words that knowledge acquired over the course of millennia can be lost if their words are lost. Conversely, new courses of human evolution can be charted by creating new words that convey new understandings. Historically, entire cultures and populations have been guided and directed through the use of words.
While words are not the only method of human communication, it could be said that, today in western culture, words and language are considered more important even than direct, personal experience. This is conveyed to us in many ways.
For example, the new standard of education says that learning is best assessed by our proficiency to interact with others in shared learning spaces. The success of these environments depends entirely on our ability to agree on language usage and social norms. The skeptic would ask, is learning really done best through collaboration?
It was Emerson who said “If you are right, you are a majority of one.” How does this inform our concept of distributive thinking? Further, we could ask, do collaborative learning environments enhance the process of honest discourse, or do they lean toward creating affirmation biases? In collaborative learning environments, dissenters can pay a heavy price if they continue to hold and communicate opposing viewpoints from the majority. They can even be exiled from the group, whether or not their position is sound.
How we learn and how we share information is the foundation of culture. Culture is shaped through language. Language is shaped with words. Words are shaped with thought. If we reverse engineer this, then thoughts can be shaped with culture. This is the profound power that culture holds over the course of human evolution. It shapes thought.
Our culture is the vessel that holds the stories that we tell ourselves. These stories inform us about the nature of our existence. If this is the case it is critical that we, in our modern society, stop consuming culture. We must create culture. The stories that we tell ourselves create the maps that turn experiences into meaningful experiences. These stories cannot be surrendered to others or to the media to create for us.
This is how we are being conditioned, however. Everything must be decided by the majority. Your personal views and experiences are not validated unless shared by others. It is when the majority agrees, that they become “real”.
Our language is a quintessential example of this. How words are defined and how their definition evolves is done precisely this way. If a majority agrees that ‘x’ is what a word means, so it is. Watch the video below about how words become “real”. It is powerful, it is persuasive. Is it the best way to shape our language or does it leave room for doubt?
Evaluation of Digital Source Material: Aside from the media content, covered above, let us change our frame of reference and examine the material as an example of learning media. Referencing Jason Ohler’s evaluation criteria, let’s look at Anne Curzan’s: 1) content understanding 2) presentation and performance and 3) story.
Content Understanding: Curzan’s understanding of her content is impressive. How words become ‘real’ is framed within a context of popular usage and the methods by which words become canonized within dictionaries. She gives a solid insight into these modern methods. She relays her first-hand experiences and provides some historical context to the subject matter.
Presentation and Performance: She has an excellent persuasive presentation style. She is funny, articulate and presents herself well as a knowledge expert. In her presentation she uses many contemporary examples to demonstrate the lighter fare of word creation. She makes what could be dry subject matter fun and her flow of information is well mapped out. The topic is firmly couched in contemporary language usage, even using emojis in her visual presentation. She interacts directly with the audience, allowing them to personally experience her subject matter.
Story: Her story is inviting. It is easy to digest and makes the topic non-threatening. She highlights the ludicrous aspects of word-making, which makes it funny and fun. She encourages the audience to lighten up on how we view the forces that shape living languages. She walks us through the silliness of our modern lexicon. She relays some preposterous positions in the efforts of language conservation. And she gives us an insider view of the process of how dictionary authors decide to change words and how it is diligently noted in their definitions. As a spectator or consumer of this story, it is easy to go along for the ride. It is presented as an academic topic for general consumption. The concept of ours as a living language is presented at the end to remind us that language is meant to evolve and to understand it as such is a forward-thinking position.