[extropy-chat] Language Again

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Thu Dec 28 15:07:19 UTC 2006

Spike writes

>> amn't I the first here to link as a verb?)
> Yes... I am grateful to you for being the first to use the term amn't.
> The singularity could be delayed, perhaps critically, by our sloppy
> inconsistent use of language.  We should fix it every chance we get,
> such a Lee's "amn't I the first..."

Naturally, this being an email list, and naturally, each of us being
a contrarian, I must disagree  :-)

Now it is true that language makes our thought possible, but is
it really true that niceties in language have any important effect?
Isn't this just a version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that so
bedeviled the 20th century?

In other words, whether one says "Am I not... " or 
"Are I not...", or "Ain't I...", or "Aren't I...", really doesn't
matter, I submit.  Either way, people know what you mean!
They just grasp it at once!

In my opinion, the conscious or unconscious adaption of 
the unfortunate Whorfian view that *what* language you
speak in (German, French, or Hopi), or *what* particular
words you use  determines what  you think, led to a lot of
real crap.

For example, one still sees many instances of people using
the distracting words "she" or "her" when describing a
gender neutral situation, e.g., "The historian, after making
careful inquiries, usually finds that her data support...".

The word "her" is still jarring because it necessarily makes
a political statement:  "I affirm that male dominance has
caused and is causing women to stay out of certain professions
because of the way these words unconsciously affect their
mental imagery, and so constrain what they will *do*."
Whereas, when one writes "The historian, after making
careful inquiries, usually finds that his data support..."
chances are that this will not flag the political parts of one's

(Of course, I could be wrong:  it may be that people under
the age of 25 do not find the specific uses of "her" and "she"
in these instances at all jarring. But a number of women have
written that they find the usuage undesirable.

Alas, yet another survey seems called for, another Ph.D. thesis
at public expense---but it would be nice to *know*!)


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