One Of The Chief Obstacles To Intelligent

Communication Is The Nature Of Language Itself. Discuss Essay, Research Paper

Language, it can safely be said, is one of the most important tools, as well

as one of the most powerful ones, that human beings use everyday. In, fact it

has been said that “language inflicts (wounds) upon the thought of man” (Anshen

341), a feat that no other thing seems able to replicate and which can make

language a dangerous tool indeed. If language can be so destructive if misused,

even in ignorance, is it not reasonable for us all to strive to master this

tool, so that we can wield it safely in an intelligent manner, to communicate

and not to cause injury? However, this may not be possible, as the very nature

of language itself hinders full mastery of its power, and as a result, hinders

intelligent and responsible communication, through which these wounds can be

caused. It is the task of this essay to objectively explore the hindrances that

are deeply woven into the fabric of our language. The ones that will be so

treated are the multiple meanings of words, the multitude of words representing

one meaning and the ambiguity that seems ever present and which leads, often

times, to misunderstanding and to inadvertent wounding of human thought. Let us


First of all, there is the matter of the multiple meanings that some words

seem to possess, or, in other words “many masquerading as one” (Emmet 39). It

may seem unreasonable to many that different ideas or objects can posses the

same symbol used to describe it, but this can be attributed to mainly one

reason. “Creation is, literally, immense; still, the names of created objects

for but one small use to which language is appropriated. Every feeling, every

desire, every action can be recorded by language. No event is so eccentric, no

imagination so wild, no situation so peculiar, but language can publish it.”

(Johnson 113). Despite this onslaught of things to describe, there are but some

40000 words in the English language to use. It is therefore necessary for more

than one meaning to share a single word. Due to this, however, it is sometimes

difficult to interpret a sentence in the proper fashion if a word that has

multiple meanings is used. A rather harmless example could be “I like him

because he is a good soccer player”. This could be interpreted several different

ways due to the different meanings that “good” possesses. It could either mean,

for example, that he is a proficient or skillful soccer player or that he is a

morally sound soccer player. In order to combat this fallacy, one must be

careful to select specific words that describe something specifically, and not

one with different meanings whenever possible.

Now that the first section is out of the way, the next order of business will

be examining the fact that many words have the same or similar meaning, or, once

again, in other words, “one masquerading as many” (Emmet 41). As an example,

here are some of the many words that can be used to describe the state of being

afraid: fearful, terrified, frightened, tremulous, and cowardly or the many

words to express the state of being surprised: astonished, astounded, and

amazed. It is surprising, or perhaps astonishing, to see how many different

words can be used to express generally the same meaning. This is perhaps the

least misleading of all three fallacies in this essay as usually it doesn’t

cause that much confusion. However, in some cases, like in a news paper in which

the writer is not encouraged to repeat himself, confusion could arise as many

descriptions of one thing could be taken as descriptions of one thing instead of

just the one. To prevent this kind of confusion, “it is often useful to ask

ourselves in our thinking and our reading whether two words or phrases are

different ways of saying the same thing or ways of describing different things”

(Emmet 41).

The last and final pitfall to be examined in this essay, while certainly not

the actual last fallacy, as there are many in embedded into the nature of

language, it is still one that is rather commonly in play. This particular

hindrance would be the one of ambiguity and vagueness, which is a trap we often

fall into when we use a word or sentence. Perhaps you may be wondering as to why

people fall into the trap of being ambiguous or vague. First of all, many times

we can “simplify the confusion of experience by overlooking obvious differences

and grouping large masses of clearly dissimilar things together under one name.”

(Anshen 112). This simply means that we cannot hope to learn all of the words

used to determine specific things apart, and therefore to those with less

experience in a certain field, common practice is to amass a multitude of

different things in that field together under one term. A good example is

someone calling four distinctly different insects “bugs”, even though they all

have specific and different names. A zoologist certainly wouldn’t call them all

“bugs”, however we do not have his experience and thus talk in a more general

manner. Another reason is the fact that sentences themselves can have multiple

meanings, an event that “(stems) from the construction of the sentence”(Kenne

27) itself. These sentences vary in meaning due to the over simplification of

their construction. For example, the sentence: “Only spend your holiday at the

lake.” could mean one of two things. Either, only spend a holiday at the beach

and not any other time, or that the beach is the sole place which you should go

to for a holiday. The danger of this form of ambiguity is that the multiple

meanings may not be apparent to the one who needs to interpret the sentence,

which can lead to misinterpretation and worse.

In conclusion, despite the apparent deeply embedded fallacies inherent in our

languages, it is still an immensely useful tool. In fact, “without words to

objectify and categorize our sensations and place them in relation to one

another, we cannot evolve a tradition of what is real in the world.” (MsBook,

Ruth Hubbard U.S. biologist. “Have Only Men Evolved?”). Language, in fact, may

be one of humanity’s greatest achievements, however we must also be cautious

when using it. It does have its traps and pitfalls which can make what we intend

to say be interpreted in an entirely different manner. We must, therefore, be

constantly on guard for these bewitching sinkholes in our everyday language. We

must ever look out for multiple meanings, as well as multiple words with the

same meaning and, of course, ambiguity. When found, these cantankerous errors

must be rooted out and destroyed, therefore enabling, or at least increasing,

the possibility of intelligent communication. Works Cited: – Anshen, Ruth Nanda. Language: An

Inquiry Into Its Meaning and Function – Emmet, E.R. Learning to

Philosophize – The American Heritage Dictionary of the English

Language – Kenne, G.B. Language and Reasoning – Johnson,

Alexander Bryan. A Treatise on Language – Microsoft Bookshelf,

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