September 24, 2012

Locke's Language Stance

I will admit, I had to read through Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding a few times before I could fully grasp what he was saying about the function of language and thought, and how they work with each other to form abstract ideas. He is almost self-fulfilling with his definition of language being imperfect, where words can mean different things and it is up to the understanding of the person on the other side of communication to fully grasp what is being communicated by what words are available. I have often wondered about the formulation of words, and how "tree" can mean one thing to us, but nothing to someone else who has another word for it-- that language is developed to attach an idea to things that exist. However, I never really thought about the complexity of words that are not attached to material things, like in his example, glory and gratitude (819). It is a collective idea that is expressed in our language one way, but different in another way. As people start learning these "moral words," their meanings assessed to them are what they experience the word to be, rather than what it is materially (like a tree). It stood out to me that he addresses language as imperfect and changing; a rather new standpoint in 17th century rhetoric, as pointed out in Bizzell/Herzberg's piece on the Enlightenment. Overall, the reformation of language to simplicity and analytical stance on the core meaning of words proved to be a pivotal point in the development of modern language, which can clearly be attributed to Locke and other notable rhetoricians.

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