concerning language - a query to Whitelotus

oft have i browsed these ‘hallowed halls’ of debate and meddlesome metaphysics. however, no posts have caught my diminutive and brief attention quite like the on-going discussion between Whitelotus and sundry. repeatedly has this philosophologist (or somesuch) repeated his position on language, one contested by many in heated argumentation. and yet i have never quite grasped WHAT precisely mr. Lotus is trying to say, more interested in the cut and thrust (pretty shoddy at times, actually) of debate.

let me see if i have his position correct:

he is arguing that a book (especially of philosophy) in another language (german and greek are his favourite examples) cannot be understood to its full extent in any other language. therefore, translation is impossible without obscenely large footnotes cropping up on every page, describing the subtleties of each word. a book can only be understood by those who know its language, otherwise it is invariably misinterpreted.

if this is indeed his position, it is utter tripe. let me explain:

if this ‘clumsiness of translation’ holds true for written language, it must hold true for spoken. but if it holds true for spoken, a person would never be able to learn another language. this is because the act of learning is ITSELF translation. say i wanted to learn french. to do this, i must form an analogue of every word in french with one in english. thus, blue = bleu, maintenant = now, etc. if no word could be translated, i could not form these analogues, and french to me would be forever a closed subject, a gibberish-language. one may argue that, yes, generalities may occur in ordinary language, but what of figures of speech, unique to the language’s culture? in this case, i would simply approximate. take for example the hundreds of inuit words for snow. one means ‘snow that has just fallen recently’, another may mean 'snow that is floating on an ice floe. in any case, the GIST of the word, if not its precise actuality, can be transferred. in other cases, the context in which the word is spoken can convey its meaning.

unless, of course, i am misinterpreting Whitelotus, and he is taking the much milder position that philosophically TECHNICAL terms, such as Camus’ ‘the absurd’, or kant’s “intuition” (forgive the lack of umlauts) cannot be translated without misinterpretation. in this case, he may be right. Nonetheless:

  1. context goes a long way to explain meaning
  2. approximation in many cases can capture accurately a word
  3. I’m not wearing any pants.
  4. the normative use of language and the contingent, technical/ philosophical use, can be distinguished between.

There are new words that are younger than most of us.

we all agree that whitelotus has more or less taken the position that reading german philosophy in the original language is probably a better way to go about regurgitating it. The fact that german already shares many aural traits with actual human regurgitation, in the vomiting sense, certainly helps whitelotus’s case.

However, in the end, the language barriers are easy enough to overcome with diligence. You can learn a lot about Nietzsche reading Walter Kaufman’s translations no matter what whitelotus says. Also, i should add that german philosophy has had its day. It’s all complete shit and so is whitelotus. but without has mastery of german, he’d have no elitist amunition to use against himself.

sir,

i already said that i may have you wrong,

i already stated that i may have misinterpreted your position

all i was doing was arguing based on an (imagined or real) set of positions. this IS a debate forum, is it not? that one should be able to posit ideas without fear of unjustified ad hominem attacks is a cornerstone of freedom. although debate IS often a series of ad hominem attacks… anyway. alright. so i have you wrong then.

excuse me, where did i write this? and i think my idea on language deserves some more debate than labelling it a “shit story” and leaving it at that. all pretensions to my ego aside, i really want to know WHY it is shit, and what it smells like (metaphorically, of course). to clarify: i said that if you mean translation can never capture the full meaning of a word, then people cannot ever learn the full meaning of second languages, they could never speak it as well as the native population, never mastering the subtleties of the terminology. which, of course, people CAN.

your position seems to borrow heavily from Wittgenstein’s concept of “language-games”, although Wittgenstein NEVER said that these games are closed off from eachother, independent. they overlap; there are correlations, like a tuber structure.

a memetic theory of words. Richard dawkins would be proud. of course i think he has something with memes… that is probably your strongest argument. of course, it is true that new words also get created all the time, through memetic mutation. do these words also say more than we intend? how about killographic? hubba hubba? zoinks? but i digress.

again with the hostility… ah well. i suppose i deserved it for misinterpreting you position and speaking my mind.

Altruist you Seem to know your shit. Cool, good to have people that know things going on.

Not that it matters anymore, but whitelotus’ language theory is a strange form of linguistic relativism, such as I’ve never heard Anyone actually maintain before. Months ago, I countered that relativism does exist but Indo-European Languages aren’t different enough from each other to really be all that different. If he was maintaining that one must read Chinese or Nahua (the language of the aztecs) or Igbo to understand those languages, I would be partial to the stance. But German and English are just too damn similar to be so radically different And greek thought permeates everything we say. You can’t speak for more than a Minute with out using a greek word in english.

anyway, he’s basically gone now, from What I here so it don’t make no differecne

Hey Hermes! Good to see you back! I trust that you fared well with the hurricanes. Yes, if you follow WhiteLotus’ logic out to it’s utmost logical conclusion then only the original neologism, first uttered by some ultra-linguistic progenitor has any relevance. No matter, it’s Greek to me and Whitelotus has met nemesis.

Isn’t this a thing you proclaim, Whitey?

To add meat to the subject, I attach further comments that appeared previously and may have escaped yoour attention.

yarrum 7
Oct 13, 2004 - 04:51 P
Sep 02, 2004 - 06:46 PM
I am posting this problem as a new thread because I have never gotten a direct response.
Is my analogy faulty?
Does this come under the label of paradox?
Is it so inane as to be ignored?
Is it too difficult to answer.
What?

"The first true experimenter in chaos was a meteorologist, named Edward

Lorenz. In 1960, he was working on the problem of weather prediction. He

had a computer set up, with a set of twelve equations to model the weather.
One day in 1961, he wanted to see a particular sequence again. To save

time, he started in the middle of the sequence, instead of the beginning. He

entered the number off his printout and left to let it run.
When he came back an hour later, the sequence had evolved differently. Instead of the same pattern as before, it diverged from the pattern, ending up wildly different from the original.
Eventually he figured out what happened. The computer stored the numbers to six decimal places in its memory. To save paper, he only had it print out three decimal places.
A scientist considers himself lucky if he can get measurements with accuracy to three decimal places. Surely the fourth and fifth, impossible to measure using reasonable methods, can’t have a huge effect on the
outcome of the experiment. Lorenz proved this idea wrong. "
Apply this knowledge to how we understand the meaning of words and abstruse concepts, particularly to translations from other languages.
To how many decimal places can we reach a common understanding of the terms that we use?
How often do we misunderstand each other in ordinary conversation let alone technical philosophical ideas.
In post after post, the most common phrase used is.
“Do I understand you correctly?”

" For remember that in general we don’t use language according to strict rules - it hasn’t been taught us by means of strict rules, either. We, in our discussions on the other hand, constantly compare language with a
calculus proceeding according to exact rules."
Ludwig Wittgenstein

YadaYada
{reponse}

Posts: 191
Posted:
Sep 02, 2004 - 08:41 PM
Your analogy is faulty. You are applying findings from one area to an unrelated area without showing why there should be a connection. Chaotic systems are a combination of formulas and random events, especially in dynamic equilibrium where the starting direction can be reversed at random.
Nowhere is this applicable to language, which is purposeful use of a medium with fuzzy rules to communicate fuzzy ideas.
" For remember that in general we don’t use language according to strict

rules - it hasn’t been taught us by means of strict rules, either. We, in our

discussions on the other hand, constantly compare language with a

calculus proceeding according to exact rules."
Ludwig Wittgenstein

yarrum
Posts: 40- 05:11 PM
I quote,
"Nowhere is this applicable to language, which is purposeful use of a medium with fuzzy rules to communicate fuzzy ideas.
Why can’t I conclude that since the instrument of languae is our only means
of commubication, that all philosophy is fated to be “fuzzy” and any conclusions to be equally “fuzzy”?

YadaYada
{response}

Posts: 191
Posted:
Sep 03, 2004 - 06:11 PM
Why can’t I conclude that since the instrument of languae is our only means of commubication, that all philosophy is fated to be “fuzzy” and any conclusions to be equally “fuzzy”?
In my opinion, that would be correct for general philosophy, but not for philosophy that deals with formalisms.
Formalisms use precise definitions and precise rules to avoid fuzziness at the cost of becoming highly specialized in scope and meaning. That is the difference between general philosophy and formal, artificial languages like mathematics, computer languages, and games with rules, like chess.