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Chapter 9: Language as Infrastructure takes a look at the role language plays in establishing meaning and understanding. The concept seems intuitive that in order to get ideas across, some form of language whether written, verbal, or symbolic, must be used. As a result, Language as Infrastructure discusses the various roles from the biological beginning to the various forms of structures. At the very basic unit, "Language is physical," [1] best summarizes the ideas being presented throughout the chapter. Despite the notion language is a intangible entity, the understanding of language as an infrastructure explains how language can be more physical.

Language and the BodyEdit

Language and the Body discusses how language is not just verbal. People have an aspect of language called body language which is used to express further information to the environment they are interacting with. The point advanced throughout the section is Broca’s argument, which states as people learn more about human thought and language, the more scientists come to the realization neither are ever entirely separate. The argument for language is furthered with the develop and discussion of subvocalization which allows humans to communicate without the actual vocalization of words; however, the intended meaning is still received and understood. As discussed in previous chapters, language is expressed both explicitly but also as an extension of people's environments and for the purpose of expressing a certain message. According to the author, "like those ancient tools, language is something we add to our environment to extend our abilities" [2]. As a result, language adds a quality as a function of evolution to express with sophistication people's ideas and thoughts.

Structure of SpeechEdit

The structure of speech discusses how people use more than just single words to get their ideas across. More often than not they use complicated structures of words put together. The compelling aspect is that without the combination of other factors people are able to truly communicate with one another. Speech can also be complex to the point if not expressed correctly or in the right manner with environmental cues, the meaning can be misconstrued. As a result, in order to express ideas and thoughts, proper grammar is essential, having the ability to completely alter the meaning; i.e. misplaced modifier.

One such example is a book by Groucho Marx's containing a joke from the movie Animal Crackers. The Groucho joke goes as such: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know." [3] The misplaced modifier within the sentence leads the reader/listener to believe a person shot an elephant wearing his pajamas instead of correctly stating one morning while the person was wearing pajamas, they shot the elephant. These grammatical mistakes are often some of the most difficult to catch because the intended meaning is almost still present, especially given other cultural clues which tells individuals it would be unlikely the elephant would be wearing pajamas. So despite the initial violation of the structure of language, the structure when put in context of the environment still conveys the intended meaning.

The Role of MetaphorEdit

The common idea is the theory presented by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson connecting languages and expression. Lakoff and Johnson believe comparing metaphor containing language to body language, for example, “give me a hand,” allows for better visualization and therefore, understanding. Other metaphors absolutely exist however for lots of different expressions. However, metaphors also are not always appropriate and cause more confusion. The most engaging aspect comes from Lakoff and Johnson believing, "language is 'fundamentally metaphorical in nature'" [4]. Essentially, language is developed from learned behaviors and is understood through people's environment; but as the concepts become more and more complex, the overall need for metaphors to put what people are experiencing in life terms becomes more necessary. the author references the iPhone’s use of albums in photography with the sub folder of camera roll as an example.

Visual InformationEdit

Visual images often assist the written or verbal language at getting across communication. Some are more of the iconic type where the purpose is to be a visual display. However, other images, such as the ones on the computer, assist at displaying the meaning behind the words next to the image. Additionally, images can also be more representative and contain more metaphorical type information which can be especially useful during the science and math courses. Visual representations of information being presented allows for abstract ideas and thoughts to become more tangible and understandable. The most common uses of these would be most familiar would be bar graphs, pie charts, etc. Visual representation and the tangible nature associated significantly improves proper interpretation which the author explains by stating, "Visual information lets us model abstraction and work with thoughts and concepts symbolically, while managing to provide objects we can see, manipulate, and arrange," [5].

Semantic Function Edit

Semantic function goes back to how some information is seemingly insignificant despite possibly being actually significant. However, the author says the way the intend the meaning of semantic function is to relate as more of a part of the environment. Human language if looked at simplistically is just a string of letters placed together into sentences to create phrases; however, when combined with environmental cues, these meaningless letters and words and phrases take on meanings people are trying to convey. More simply put, "semantic information has a real, functional role as invariant structure in our surroundings," [6] acting as a physical affordance for semantic information. An example is the perception of stoplights held by various people. The stoplight is an actual, tangible object; however, the stoplight indirectly controls the environment by its portrayed semantic meaning which tells people, when red, they need to stop. The function operates in a tacit manner by having people assess the information about what they are looking at and then what they have to do next. The light does not present a legitimate, physical barrier, but within people's perception of the lights meaning, the barrier is real.

Tools for Understanding Edit

As aforementioned throughout these summaries and analyses, language is a conduit for expressing ideas combining language with environmental cues. Without this form of communication, the environment would not be the same; without the environment, language would not be the same. Also though, language serves to bridge the gap to understanding and the environment, such as through creating “infrastructure”. The author argues the ability to use language to label is one of “languages most powerful abilities” [7]. Tools for Understanding aims to impart the idea language can be used as infrastructure but above all, "our cognition moves from physical-object to abstract-label-object with ease." [8] The author compared language as a type of joint because language aims to allow bending and joining of new thoughts and concepts, all seeking to create a deeper understanding about the world and the individual.

Semantic Architecture Edit

Occasionally language can be simple, or it can be as complex. Language, environment, and structure all come together to create an understanding that interconnects and relies on each other to express meanings. Cognizance created by language serves to bridge together the communities of thought and communication. Lastly, language is like any other common aspect of the environment, constructed and structured, much like architecture, to create the world humans live in. According to Clark, "When we say we're trying to 'clarify' a point or 'make the complex clear', its not just a metaphor; we're trying to make an environment's semantic function make coherent sense to our bodies" [9]. The author states how walking up to an individual and just staring without prior contextual clues, would be weird; however, if rules were established beforehand, the context is present and the simple game remains simple.

AnalysisEdit

Language can be understood by its multiple facets. The authors first describe body language and the importance of body cues when presenting ideas to help construct an actual meaning. So very often verbal miscommunications occur due to the lack of body language associated commonly through modern technologies such as texting and through email. Body language adds the human quality of emotion to provide deeper meaning to a string of words.

With or without body language, if grammar is not used correctly, the meaning will most likely still not get across. In some cases, miscommunication will stem from the improper presentation either written or verbally, such as the provided example above of misplaced modifier, which alters the meaning. Metaphors are also a useful option in conveying a message. Metaphors are a great way to tie people’s original mental models to the idea being presented, especially in the case of new information.

Metaphors directly interrelate the use of body language to more significantly drive home an idea, for example, "lending a hand." Metaphors can provide a direct visual associated with the request being made. Visual cues then used in relation to language allow for multiple pathways of thought to be activated to stimulate more active cognizance. To see physically and read/hear what is being stated, establishes the intended meaning with far fewer opportunities for failed or miscommunication.

Language can then be structured by intended function. Language can be a complicated aspect of humanity to grasp, especially when one takes into account how many languages exist in the world. However, understanding can be more easily derived when put into context of environmental structures. For example, someone can understand the meaning of the word for something in another country if they see the environment surrounding the word being used; which is why sometimes the best way to learn another language is to emerge one's self in their culture. On the other hand, by providing a construct of language before a physical construct, it has the ability to assist the understanding greater, seen as with the staring game being easier when rules were established first. So to establish language is simple but it can also be complex and difficult depending on how environmental cues and context are able to help in creating understanding and vice versa.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 141
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 142
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 143
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 146
  5. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 151
  6. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 152
  7. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 157
  8. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 158
  9. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Page 159

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