Theory of Knowledge Full Essay- Language and Vocabulary

10 October 2016

Thus, many believe that the vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge and rather, it shapes what we can know. However, to what extent can this statement be said to be true? Is vocabulary really the only way to communicate our knowledge? What else can vocabulary do besides communicate knowledge? Do you need to be able to communicate your knowledge to show your knowledge? Is our knowledge only gained through language and vocabulary? Lastly, if vocabulary “shapes” what we can know, can we say that knowing more languages will gain us access to more knowledge?

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First of all, vocabulary refers to the body of words that are used in a particular language, such as the very words I am using to write this essay. Without vocabulary, there are no words and as a result, language is also non-existent. Imagine a life without words; we cannot describe or speak out the ideas in our mind, we cannot ask questions, or communicate with one another. In fact, even when we think in our mind, it involves the use of words. Does that mean that without words we would not have thoughts? Without vocabulary and language, we would not know most of the current knowledge that we do today.

Think about the knowledge that we currently possess; many of us would agree that most of the knowledge that we currently have and understand is learnt through school, books and education— but how could we have possibly grasped all the physics theories, math formulas and others that we’ve learnt without the use of vocabulary or words? How would the teachers teach in a world where language is non-existent? Books would just be a fictitious myth if language does not exist. How could we expand our knowledge capabilities through reading if books do not exist?

Thus, in a way vocabulary shapes what we can know because without vocabulary, we cannot communicate with one another and thus, knowledge cannot be passed down or shared. As a result, the knowledge we know will be limited to only what we experience or discover by ourselves. However, we would not have the ability to have knowledge about other people’s experiences or way of life and culture. For example, the Aloe Vera plant originated from Northern India and is now regarded highly for its healing and rejuvenating properties. Its antiquity was first discovered in 1862 in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1550 BC.

Thus, the healing power of Aloe Vera was first discovered by ancient Egyptians, who decided to note this down on a piece of papyrus. If language had not existed and the ancient Egyptians during that time had decided not to write down the healing properties of Aloe Vera, that sliver of knowledge would not be passed down and shared among us and we would not know what we know today. We would not be able to benefit from the natural therapeutic quality of Aloe Vera. Therefore, in this example, language and vocabulary has shown to be a powerful tool for communicating knowledge.

In a way, vocabulary does shape what we can know but to what extent is this true? Can vocabulary be said to be the crux of knowledge? Is vocabulary really the only method to communicate and share knowledge? Although vocabulary can be said to make up a large part of our understanding and our knowledge, it is not the only way that we can learn and gain knowledge. Another way would be through our own life experiences. For example, when we touch a hot cup of coffee and scald our skin, we learn from our own experience to be careful of touching hot surfaces as it can harm us.

In this manner, we have learnt or acquired new knowledge without the use of vocabulary or communication but rather through our own experience. Our nervous system has sent a signal to our brain. Vocabulary is also not the only way for us to communicate our knowledge. Another method would be through the use of body language, facial expressions or hand signals. For example, traffic officers mainly rely on hand signals to direct the traffic at a particular junction or intersection. Through the use of body language, the traffic officer is able to communicate their knowledge to the drivers bout whether they should stop or go. In this example, knowledge is being passed on without the use of language. Similarly, by looking at a person’s facial expression or body language, we can know how they are feeling (e. g. sad, happy, angry). Furthermore, thinking does not have to always involve words. We can think in other ways such as through images. It is important to understand that to be able to communicate our knowledge through the use of vocabulary and language, we first have to be able to put that certain piece of knowledge into words.

At age 6, my mom used to test me on my vocabulary and would ask me the definition of words. Oftentimes, I would reply her saying “I know what the word means but I just can’t explain it! ” My mom would then answer, “If you can’t explain it then that means you don’t really understand it! ” I would protest and tell her that I do understand but that it was just difficult to put into words. Thus, this led me to ask myself a question; do we need to be able to explain something with words to understand the concept of it? 6 year old me would beg to differ.

However, I believe that even if we can’t explain things in words, it doesn’t mean that we don’t understand it. Has your friend ever tried telling you a personal problem but he says that he can’t really put how he feels into words and you replied saying “I know exactly what you mean and how you feel”? Most of the time, this happens when we have gone through the same experience and thus, we can relate to them and recall how they feel. Art is another way to communicate knowledge without the use of vocabulary. For example, using graphics or art. As Napolean Bonaparte once said, “a picture tells a thousand words”.

Similarly, an artwork can communicate knowledge to us. For example, the artist Chris Jordan, turns statistics into art. One of his pieces features a picture of 2 million plastic cups stacked up above each other, which is the number of cups we use every 5 minutes. It is much more impactful to visually see the numbers than to hear the numbers. A simple picture with no words was able to relay knowledge to us and raise our awareness. Thus, even though language does restrict the knowledge that we can know, there are still other ways to interpret knowledge.

Another area of knowledge we can look at is mathematics. In mathematics, language is not used to communicate knowledge, but rather, the use of numbers. Numbers are a universal language that the world can understand. 2+2 will always equal to 4, regardless of your nationality or what language you speak. Therefore, we can say that in math, language and vocabulary is not very significant. According to the statement in the question, vocabulary is said to do more than just “communicate knowledge, it shapes what we can know”.

If this is true, does that mean that knowing more languages will gain us more access to knowledge? As Federccopellini once said, “a different language is a different vision of life”. Federccopellini believed that language is a way of life and the more languages you know and understand, then, the more access to knowledge that you possess. To a certain extent, this statement can be said to be true. For example, there is a word in Bahasa Indonesia known as lidah buaya. The direct translation of lidah is tongue while buaya means crocodile in English. Together it means crocodile tongue.

However, people who speak Bahasa Indonesia know that lidah buaya doesn’t literally mean crocodile tongue. In fact, it is actually the name given to the Aloe Vera plant in Bahasa Indonesia! Hence, to a certain extent, it can be said to be true that knowing more languages will allow us to possess more knowledge, as we would be exposed to different cultures, which would help us to understand their way of life. However, it is also important to note that the meaning of words otherwise known as semantics, have a propensity to change and evolve over time.

For example, in the past, the definition of the word “gay” meant “carefree” and “cheerful”. However, in modern times, the word “gay” is used to describe someone that is homosexual. In this example, we can see how words can change its meaning over time. Thus, if the meanings of words vary over time, how true can it be said that language is a reliable method to communicate knowledge? Furthermore, oftentimes, words are made up to explain or describe a complex set of behaviours that in truth, nobody has really observed or seen.

This is known as occult quantity. For example, in the sciences such as physics, the term “electronic field” is used to define a region around a charged particle or object within which a force would be exerted on other charged particles or objects. However, we can never really prove whether electronic fields exist because we cannot actually see the field with our own eyes. The existence of electronic fields is only “proven” when physicians make assumptions based on the observations and results of an experiment.

However, how do we know that the experiment results aren’t just an effect of some other unknown cause that we have yet to discover? Occult quantity leads to doubts about the knowledge surrounding a term or a word. Thus, this shows how words can be misleading or tell us false information that we will believe due to the “research” thought to have been carried out. Can these made-up terms or words be included in our vocabulary when they are not proven? How can these made-up terms or words communicate true knowledge?

In conclusion, I believe that vocabulary is a crucial part of acquiring and communicating knowledge and to a certain extent it does “shape” what we can know. However, vocabulary is not the only way to acquire or communicate knowledge as shown from the examples above. (1794 words) ——————————————– [ 1 ]. http://www. ted. com/talks/chris_jordan_pictures_some_shocking_stats. html [ 2 ]. http://www. ted. com/speakers/chris_jordan. html [ 3 ]. (http://east. merriam-webster. com/dictionary/electric%20field)

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