September 24, 2012

The "Truth" of Language

The main point that I took away from Locke's essay was this: We are all different, and we use language in different ways than others around us. Language has specific roles that it plays, and the more complex the role, the more likely we are to encounter a misunderstanding in meaning. Locke says of language, "It is easy to perceive what imperfection there is in language, and how the very nature of words makes it almost unavoidable for many of them to be doubtful and uncertain in their significations" (817).

This essay reminded me a bit of Campbell's issue involving Sojourner Truth and Frances Gage. Truth, who we established in a previous class was a Dutch former slave, made an empowering speech on the rights and freedoms of women back in the 1850's. After that, Gage transformed Truth's Dutch accent into that of an African American living in the South. To me, that is the perfect example of how language is imperfect. Gage's essay had the same words (or variations of them) as Truth's essay, but since the context was changed, it considerably changed the way that the piece was received by an audience. If words were perfect and consistent, the meaning of them (or even the sound of them, ie. Dutch accent versus African American accent) would not change with the speaker.

Further in his essay, Locke states that language can be misunderstood "when any word does not excite in the hearer the same idea which it stands for in the mind of the reader" (817). This also reminds me of Barthes, who stresses the importance on the reader rather than the author. In writing, and in language, it is always important to speak in a way that the reader/audience will understand, because without that understanding, the meaning of the language is lost.

1 comment:

rachel rivera said...

This was really great - all of the connections you made kind of helped tie all of the articles we've been discussing together.

I think it really resonates when you talk about Campbell's essay and Truth's speech; when put in these different contexts, it's crazy to see just how much the meaning changes. You paint an image in your mind of the speaker based on how theauthor portrays them and it encourages your perception of the text. Because I thought that Truth sounded like an African-American slave women, I didn't really see the text for what it was (a women's rights speech) and instead thought it would be something about slave's rights. But when seen in Campbell's context, I could clearly see what it was about.

I think Locke was very accurate when he said that language causes a lot of misunderstandings. Both essays said the same thing and but because of the way in which they were written, it lacked the same appeals. I had different feelings when reading the pieces and was very misguided because of Gage's style of writing it.

Such an interesting thing to think about...

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