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Is language too ambiguous?

 
JuanLEngland
 
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JuanLEngland
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24 September 2010 19:27
 

This is an all too common problem in spoken language, but especially in writing.  I think that, on average, we do not convey enough information when we communicate with each other.  There is a lot of information that one would like to consider when reading the words of another - how much have they experienced?  What is their attitude?  What is their motivation for writing it?  How long have they spent thinking about it?  When they wrote this sentence, did they gloss over it or was it a crucial part of their overall message?  Are they throwing numbers out or do they have evidence behind it?  Is this a talking point, placed for shock value or is there some substance here?  etc etc

The ambiguity of definitions of words in general is one of the problems - I remember one of my philosophy professors based her 20+ year paper around deriving what convention was but in fact she was simply redefining convention as agreement.  She wasn’t very happy when I started pointing this out in class.  The point here is that there is a lot of crucial information that needs to be communicated but isn’t - and the quest for truth suffers greatly for it.

I’m wondering if Tokein had this in mind when he wrote about the Ent language…

 
Jefe
 
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Jefe
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24 September 2010 20:15
 

Short answer: Yes.
Long Answer: Yes.  We should be able to explain any single concept to any single person, given any level of education or literacy.  Given the relative and fuzzy nature of words that are commonly used in our language, it becomes difficult.  Given the ‘generalist’ tendencies of our brains to try to categorize concepts into small, bite-sized terms and concepts, it will be an ongoing struggle to retain clarity - especially when trying to communicate personal relative concepts or feelings.

 
 
nv
 
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nv
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24 September 2010 21:18
 

Yes, interaction via speech has plenty going for it, but writing has now had the chance to develop for a few thousand years. It’s not as though we were still back in the time of Socrates, before the written word amounted to much of any strength. Literary accomplishment offers something resembling permanence, whereas speech can be cumbersome as a large-scale medium to exchange information or feeling.

It’s the telephone that drags us down as a species, but of course that will eventually be overcome as well, I assume. And cell phones are at the bottom of the heap, barely rising above the utility of a distant smoke signal or Morse code.

 
 
JuanLEngland
 
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JuanLEngland
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25 September 2010 05:37
 

Why do you think the telephone drags us down as a species?

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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25 September 2010 06:05
 

Pinker has a lot to say about this. He thinks that ambiguity is actually a selected trait and has many advantages. Basically, the fact that a word or sentence or paragraph can be interpreted and inferred many different ways is our subconscious way of arbitrating disputes. Like state of the union addresses. They say everything and nothing. It’s irritating to those of us who like substance, sure. But also serves to give possible opponents a way to hear what they want to hear and feel justified in not attacking with physical force. Consider times and places in history when the slightest perceived disrespect resulted in violent feuds that sometimes lasted generations. Overt politeness and relative silence was one way to mitigate this damage. Ambiguity of language is possibly another.

 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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25 September 2010 10:04
 

Depends on what the definition of IS, is.
smile

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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25 September 2010 15:21
 

“When speaking on different subjects, I have noticed how difficult it is to pass on one’s understanding, even of the most ordinary subject and to a person well known to me.  Our language is too poor for full and exact descriptions.  ...In order to be understood by another…, it is not only necessary for the speaker to know how to speak but for the listener to know how to listen.  This is why I can say that if I were to speak in a way I consider exact, everybody here, with very few exceptions, would think I was crazy.”  Georg Gurdjieff, Views From the Real World, p.41.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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25 September 2010 15:25
 

Much of the meaning of any written word depends on context, knowledge of the writer, mutual agreement as to word meaning, etc.

 
 
hacktu21
 
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hacktu21
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25 September 2010 17:45
 

Yes languages in general are ambiguous
I saw different arguments about the language itself, words, sentences:etc.
Although i think how it’s perceived as well plays part on its ambiguousness.
If I intentionally wrote a sentence that was meant to be ambiguous how many people would actually perceive it as so?

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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Antisocialdarwinist
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25 September 2010 18:08
 

Is language too ambiguous for what? Your question is ambiguous. (Is that language’s fault or yours?)

 
 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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25 September 2010 18:17
 

ASD

Keep in mind that Free reports himself to be an Egyptian, living Egypt, and his written English is very good but not perhaps a facile as some of us.  Far better then we’d be trying to write in his native language, I’d bet.

 
 
goodgraydrab
 
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goodgraydrab
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25 September 2010 18:47
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 25 September 2010 04:08 PM

Is language too ambiguous for what? Your question is ambiguous. (Is that language’s fault or yours?)

Second that. That’s why we have interviews.

 
 
hacktu21
 
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hacktu21
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25 September 2010 19:06
 

s language too ambiguous for what? Your question is ambiguous. (Is that languageā€™s fault or yours?)

I think this was a reply to the main post , but that’s exactly my point.
If you perceive(understand) the Question as ambiguous., whose fault is it? me (assuming I wrote the question ) ,language, or your understanding?
I see no fault what so ever.
Its as you said not “too” ambiguous., it’s not vague , but both intentionally or unintentionally the use of Particular words can render a sentence or even an entire article ambiguous.
yet i agree it’s more noticed when its intentional

 
JuanLEngland
 
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JuanLEngland
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25 September 2010 20:06
 

Here’s a thought experiment - I’m going to try to state something such that only 1 interpretation is possible.  The goal for the audience (you) is to create multiple interpretations of what I write.  My goal will be to revise the statement to discredit the ‘wrong’ interpretations.  We’ll see how long it takes for the statement to be completely unambiguous.  I’ll start off with something simple:

The book that I am reading is 7000 pages long.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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25 September 2010 20:13
 

Isn’t is stated that something 80% of communication visual/aural? When writing, inflection, emphasis, tone, etc are missing and that can lead to misunderstandings. That said do we have anything better?

 
 
saralynn
 
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saralynn
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25 September 2010 20:34
 

I remember once meeting a Russian who owned a dry cleaning store, and I started blah blah blahing about how much I liked Russian literature, esp. Tolstoy.  He then asked me if I spoke Russian, and when I replied that I didn’t, he said bluntly, “You’ve never read Tolstoy.”

Humph.  Even my dry cleaner disses me. However, I felt I deserved it.

I think German is the best language with which to discuss philosophy.  They have all sorts of words that we don’t.  We borrowed some of them….zeitgeist, angst, Dasein, Weltschmerz, and my favorite, schadenfreude, but I’m sure there are many more unknown to English speakers.

We mustn’t forget….Gott ist tot! 

And hamburger.

 
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