Thursday, September 21, 2017
Arise, You Prisoners of Semantics! (Part 3)
Just as a concert pianist doesn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about which finger to run over which key, letting the music take his hands where it wants to, so too we let our language carry our thought forward in a way that is largely automatic. The specific features of the language we speak influences the thoughts we think. It is possible but difficult to go beyond what our language can readily express through the use of special terminology and awkward, labored phrasing. On the other hand, it takes no effort at all to run roughshod over distinctions which our language does not enforce. When people start to ignore some nicety of grammar, they may at first sound uncouth and uneducated, but once the trend runs its course everyone forgets what any of it was about. But what in fact happens is that the voices of countless generators of our ancestors are suddenly and permanently silenced. They had evolved this or that grammatical category or feature through trial and error, and preserved it over thousands of years because it conferred advantages on them—and us—by enabling us to think higher-quality thoughts more or less effortlessly and automatically.
This is a horror story in which the loss of one small but vital grammatical distinction leads a certain part of humanity to be conquered and dominated by machines to such an extent that they forget what it means to be human, or an animal, or alive.
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