This essay discusses the effectiveness of language in teaching how to do something. Therefore, it assesses its capability of transmitting knowledge, and asks whether this knowledge can so be considered as truth. In this essay, its answered through a comparison with other ways of knowing, namely experience, instinct, practice, and perception. This type of juxtaposition reveals the weaknesses of language, such as authority that it relies on. The flaw here is that truthfulness of the authority has to be proved and proof is acquired through other ways of knowing. Moreover, experience is necessary to understand the information language passes as it provides us the ability to relate. These suggest that language is reliant on other ways of knowing and lessen its importance. Additionally, language is ambiguous and this factor distorts truth when transmitted between people. These weaknesses reduce its reliability and importance as a way of knowing.
Experience is very important in understanding information. Through experience for example, I understand that if Im told to keep away from a possible fire source such as the oven because Ill get hurt, its true. I know this because as a child I experienced that fire is harmful when I stuck my finger in it and got burned. I have proof through experience that this authoritys information is true. Without it, I wouldnt understand the harmful effect of fire and keep away from ovens. Additionally, experience of the same kind gives me the ability to learn through relating to information or empathy.
Because of the ability to relate, Eia Uus, for instance, has successfully transmitted her experiences of The Regents School in her book Kuu K¯¿½lm Kuma1 because I study at the same school. Experience is the base of this understanding even though books use language. Therefore, language is less significant in acquiring knowledge as it seems to be reliant on other ways of knowing to prove its self true. But as human experiences are different, how can I understand another person besides me? Some people are simply better with empathy than others is the answer.
My friend Marii acquires writers experiences easier than I do because she is better at relating to other people, for example. Furthermore, the ambiguity of language leads to different interpretations. As an example, in school the teachers mark our essays. Teachers are authority but how do they claim to know that Mariis interpretation of a literary text is more valid than mine? Theyve either based their decision on their own ideas or acquired their evidence from other intellectuals, but the same problem of validity arises with them. These examples illustrate that it is difficult for language to reach truth because of its dependence on other ways of knowing and its ambiguity.
However, if Marii is naturally talented with empathy in literature, it introduces knowing through instinct and talent. Does this mean that people immediately know how to do something? Although Im not good with literature, Im good at drawing. But I couldnt draw from birth and I went through lots of practice. This indicates that one doesnt know how to do something form birth but has to acquire the knowledge. In addition, instinct is like language, in this case requiring practice to express its knowledge in the individual.
Another question arises whether understanding through language is only possible for some talented individuals? Looking at singing can answer this as it also is an area associated with talent. Controversially to that, my singing teacher Ms. Nelson claimed that everyone can be taught to sing. This found proof in my friend Liisi whose inability to hold tune was indicated to me through my perception. However, Ms. Nelson taught her to sing with practice despite having no talent. Therefore, this proves that untalented people can learn to understand through language. Furthermore, that instinct is like language, dependant on other ways of knowing which shows that language isnt the only way of knowing subject to this problem.
However, although Liisi can hold tune, without talent she achieved this only to a certain level. I have talent but Im not faultless in drawing, either. This suggests that learning through language is limited with or without talent. Therefore, knowledge passed to Marii in literature is limited, too. Can one know for certain if knowledge in language is limited? I dont know. For example, I constantly practice drawing in the style of Japanese Manga. I think that Ill never reach the rank of Kazuki Takahashi and other prestigious artists of Japanese art culture but Im getting better day by day.
This suggests that with practice I might one day have learned enough to master Japanese Manga. I dont have the authority to say that I am getting better, though. Furthermore, the style divides into many sub- styles much like Estonian language has many dialects2. How much practice is necessary to master this huge quantity of knowledge to say that one knows truth? This also suggests that despite being Estonian, I cant speak my own language as I cant speak all the dialects. What are the boundaries of a section of knowledge? Can Marii and our literature teachers ever practice enough to acquire knowledge through language?
A different way of looking at the dependence of language on other ways of knowing has risen from the latter. Language takes the very important role of passing knowledge between people and uses other ways of knowing as indicators of its validity. For instance, information in visual art is very personal portraying the artists experiences. My work makes sense to me but might not to the spectator. Most of the times, perception fails to transmit experience in art and the viewer cant relate. In this situation, experience is also dependant on other ways of knowledge like language. For example, my art portrays my experiences of the conflict between two nationalities in Estonia.
Ive experienced the failure to understand my experiences in an art exhibition at the Regents School where people turned to pieces visually more attractive. I know that my work wouldve had more attention if Id be given a chance to speak about it. For instance, when I explained my work to an artist visiting the school, she related to my experiences and understood the conflict in Estonia through my work. This example portrays language as an important transmitter. However, this only happens to some extent as experiences cant be understood completely. Empathy is reintroduced plunging the essay into moving in a circle. The accuracy of knowledge passed down from person to person is therefore questioned.
However, how much does impersonal experience like empathy in Mariis case, act as evidence for language? In some cases it seems one doesnt need experience to trust the authority. For instance, scientists have informed me via the media that the strong electricity in electric fences can kill a person although I dont have experience as I havent touched one. Language was used by the scientist to communicate this information to me and I confirmed the knowledge true. However, this is contradictory to what the essay has established. Another way of knowing is necessary to confirm it because how does the authority or I claim to know that electricity can kill? My emotion tells me its too risky to go and try it out myself- it seems Ive learned of its killing power through some other source. One source is the media- through watching television Ive seen news of people dying due to electric fences. Perception has given me the proof to confirm the authority that electric fences can kill.
If television is not available, there are other ways I can find proof from. For example, Ive read of similar accidents in newspapers. Newspapers are authority, as well. Moreover, they rely on language which creates a conflict with a chain of authorities that need to be confirmed. How do I know the newspaper is telling the truth? Yet, if Im given pictorial evidence as well, I can question whether the man died due to the electric fence or some other cause- witnesses are needed to affirm the picture. Videos would provide live evidence but with modern technology, videos can be tampered with. How is most convincing proof acquired? To see a person die due to an electric fence personally.
Does this mean that the authorities have all seen with how electricity kills a person? Experimenting with another persons life is out of the question as my emotion tells me its unethical. Its also unlikely that each scientist has seen this happen through an accident. On the other hand, the person can give permission for such experiments. I saw Channel 4s Anatomy for Beginners3 where a person had given permission to demonstrate human anatomy on him when he dies, live. In the same way, a person could sacrifice oneself for an experiment with electric fences. The person would be alive, though, and is anyone prepared to kill himself when it possibly involves pain? I dont have authority to answer that. However, even in this complex situation, language was the communicator of knowledge between people.
In conclusion, the essay has developed the idea that despite having flaws, language is not less important because other ways of knowing face the same sort of problems. It suggests that perhaps its even more important as it takes the role of passing information between people and ensures that knowledge doesnt get lost. In reality, language uses other ways of knowing so that the person receiving the information can make sure that its correct. Its a cycle in which information received through language forms a hypothesis that the receiver acquires proof for, passing it forward when found evidence of it being true. However, questions left unanswered arise all the same indicating that truth is hard to reach.
1 Margit Tonson; Eia Uus Kuu k¯¿½lm kuma; 16 November 2005 [http://www.ekspress.ee/viewdoc/B640EE2961DF545FC22570AE004AD378]
2 Urmas Sutrop; Estonian Language; n.d; [http://www.einst.ee/publications/language/kaart/kaart2.html]
3 Channel 4; 2005; Live and Uncut: Anatomy For Beginners [DVD]; UK; Firefly Entertainment.