(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Language Influences Cognition

I had not only learned to speak a language: I had started to think in it. Its questions became my questions, its concepts shaped my responses to new ideas. Its definitions of the parameters of reality became mine… My grasp on what I knew as reality seemed to slip.

Carol Cohn (1987), quoted by Laura M. Ahearn, Living Language (2012)

Before quoting Cohn, Ahearn describes the context of the article from which her words are taken (”Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals”) and the effects of discourse upon cognition:

“Cohn describes how, during her year of residence in a think tank of nuclear strategists, she was required to learn a new way of speaking – lots of acronyms for types of missiles, for example, and many euphemisms and abstractions for describing nuclear war. In all of the discussions among the defense intellectuals, Cohn noticed, the nuclear weapons themselves were most often the subjects of sentences. Human beings, in other words, were not the active agents in what Cohn called “technostrategic” discourse; the weapons were the ones that had the power to act upon the world in this community of practice. Cohn reports that in order to be taken seriously in this social and intellectual environment, she had to learn how to speak this “technostrategic discourse – but as soon as she did, she found herself at first unable to articulate her anti-nuclear sentiments, and then, frighteningly, unable even to think about her anti-nuclear opinions.”

Compare Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four. There seem to be some parallels to the cognitive effects of his “doublethink” going on here. Language is performative.


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This entry was posted on July 27, 2015 by and tagged , .
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