Friday, February 1, 2013

Precision in Language

According to Stahl, “Words are used to think.  The more words we know, the finer our understanding of the world.”  (Stahl, 1999)
As an instrument of thought, we cannot think in any other context than language.
Language allows…
·         you to clarify your own thinking
·         the person next to you to understand what you are thinking.
·         you to understand what I am thinking.
·         all of us to transfer our thoughts and accumulated information from one generation to the next generation.
Most important, the most effective of all “shared public language” is (1) well constructed, (2) precise, (3) specific, and (4) provokes mental images. These should be practiced often in schools and at home.  
A concise summary of written language is that language is a remarkable form of “recorded thought” allowing us to defy both time and distance. Yet precision in language is priceless – think of the consequences that can result from a careless usage of language in the operating room, the pharmacy, or the air traffic controllers’ tower.
Through language we articulate thoughts, describe events, connect ideas, make inferences, and ultimately make sense. However, everyday language, surface grammar, and imprecise word selection can lead to oral or written misunderstandings.
Are the words disinterested and uninterested synonymous or interchangeable? Most individuals would equate the two terms although “unbiased” would be a more precise definition of “disinterested.”
In school, it is the misuse, imprecision, and under-specification that we see in language that leads to the hazardous results. In a field like science, each of these can deny children access to ideas, concepts and key principles.

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