Summer Post #13: Chimbarazo! (or I Didn’t Know That)

Once again, TED veteran Rives (the guy who did the textspeak love story) wows us with another charming, humorus, but enlightening talk.

Here you go- and I dare you not to blurt out “Chimbarazo!” sometime today…


Language as a Way of Knowing: INTRO

*adapted from Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma




“Man is the animal that speaks. Understanding language is thus the key to understanding man” – Thomas Szasz

“Thought is not merely expressed in words, it comes into existence through them” – L. Vygotsky

“Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel faster or last longer” – Steven Pinker

“Language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is the shaper of ideas. ..We dissect nature along the lines laid down by our native languages” – Benjamin Whorf

“Who does not know another language does not know his own” – Goethe

“Almost all education is language education” – Neil Postman

“Language was given to man to disguise his thoughts” – Tallyrand

“The word is half his that speaks, and half his that hears it”– Michel de Montaigne


REASON: How many arguments turn out to be about the meaning of words?

EMOTION: Does the way you describe something affect how you feel about it?

PERCEPTION: How does language affect the way we see things, and vice versa?

RELIGION: Does religious experience lie beyond language expression?

MATHS: How is mathematics like a language?

TECHNOLOGY: How are programming languages like other languages? How have tech innovations altered the way we communicate with language?

HUMAN SCIENCE: Is language unique to human beings? 

NATURAL SCIENCE: What role do metaphors play in the sciences?

HISTORY: Is it possible to describe historical events in an unbiased way? How can language be used as propaganda?

ARTS: in what ways can the arts be considered the language if human emotions?

ETHICS: Should offensive language be censored?


– A great deal of our knowledge comes from language and this makes possible an intellectual division of labor

– Language is: rule-governed, intended, and creative

– We need to understand the meaning of a sentence before we can decide if it is true or false

– A great deal of language is ambiguous and there is a great deal of interpretation built into all communication.

– Since we use language to interpret and classify, there is a dnager that we misclassify and stereotype things

– Language can influence our experience of reality

– Language is used to describe, influence, persuade, and manipulate the way people see things

– Whether or not there are some truths that lie beyond language is a matter of debate


1. How much could you know about the world if you had no language or means of communicating with other people?

2. What are some examples of words that have entered the English language as a result of the computer revolution?

3. Try to define as precisely as possible these words: a. triangle    b. love     c. table  What is the difference? Which was easiest to define?

4. How would you try to explain to a blind person what the word RED means? What does this suggest to you about the limitations of definitions?

5. To what extent is your use of languages accompanied by images? Does every word conjur up an image or only some of them?

6. Do you think a robot (or Siri) could use and respond appropriately to language? What differences would it make in real life if that were the case?

7. Do you think communication would be improved if we got rid of vague words?  DO you think vague or ambiguous words sometimes serve a purpose?

8. Many jokes are based on ambuguity…can you give an example?

9. When Bill Clinton entered the White HOuse in `993, his wife Hillary wanted to be known as “Presidential Partner”, not “First Lady”. What is the difference in connotations? If a woman ever would become president of the USA, what do yo think would be an appropriate title for her husband?

10. Birds fly and planes fly. Since fish swim, why don’t we say that submarines also swim? What do submarines do?

11. What would be the advantages  and disadvantages of everyone in the world spoke a common language? What would be gained and what would be lost?

12. What can or have you learned about your own language by studying a second language? can you provide examples from your second language which have no English equivalent? What about idioms (expressions)?

13. What kind of texts do you think are easy to translate from one language to another and what kinds are more difficult? Can you provide an example from your study of L’Etranger by Camus?

14. In what ways to we classify people (e.g. astrological sign, race, nationality, music choice, etc.) and what are the advatnages and disadvantages of this? Are some more natural or better than others? How many ways can YOU be classified via language?

15. Take 2 advertising slogans of your choice – such as “Just Do It” by Nike- explain why you think they are effective (or not)

16. A lot of advertisers describe products as “natural”, because there are connotations that “natural” or “organic” is good. Can you give examples when “natural/ organic” is bad?

17. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – Analyze the way language is used in each of these pairs of expressions: pro-life/pro-choice; genetically-modified food/ Frankenstein food; Free speech/ Hate Speech; “Blocking your child’s access to objectionable material on the Internet is not called Censorship, it;s called Parenting” (Al Gore); piracy/ file-sharing

18. In 1947 the U.S. Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense. Do you think this makes a difference? Explain.

19. Do you agree with the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”? In light of the effects of cyberbullying, how might you analyse this quote?

20. The “Political Correctness” movement has been popular in the past 2 decades, striving to use language to change attitudes to the oppressed or disadvantaged. What examples can you give of “PC language” or a “PC incident” and what are your personal thoughts?









ASSIGNMENT (also found on Managebac)- answers may be WRITTEN (blogged) or VLOGGED

1. Choose 1 QUOTE from the list above and comment on it with your own personal thoughts and real- life examples.

2. Choose 1 LINKING QUESTION. Comment on it with your own personal thoughts and real-life examples from the world or your experiences. Find a related article or video that would support your answer, and describe how it does. You can research on your own or use the HANDY DIIGO LIST of almost 100 sources to help.

3. CHOOSE TEN of the 20 proposed Blog Questions and answer them thoughtfully, providing examples as you go. Relate it to your own experience. Try to find other articles or videos that would support your answer and post along with it. (The more resources you have later, the better)

4. COMMENT with your own personal thoughts or questions on the 3 VIDEOS found on this blog post.

5. PARTNER GROUP PRESENTATION (or alone if you wish): PERUSE the DIIGO and DELICIOUS LISTS (linked at the top) of things I’ve curated about Language. CHoose ONE that seems interesting to you both and prepare a presentation for the class. You may use any sort of presentation tool such as Google Slideshow, PowerPoint, Prezi, etc. ***Refer to the “Presentation” section in your TOK textbook, pp.276-281.  For MORE TIPS, SEE:

You should do the following in your presentation:

a. give us an overview of the article or video

b. identify at least 1 knowledge question or issue in the article or video (***should be in the form of an open-ended question, with the question about knowledge itself)

c. icorporate examples from personal life (knower’s perspective), or show clear personal involvement

d. discuss the implications of knowledge

e. show different perspectives and/or connections to other subjects (Areas of Knowledge) or Ways of Knowing – the linking questions above have some categories

f. try spend at least 10 minutes per person talking/presenting (that is a TOk requirement)

DUE DATES – be ready to present *please note that those on the MUN trip will need to go first!

Per. 3: MOnday, March 5

Per. 7: Tuesday, March 6

INS: Wed., March 7

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