Q: The vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge; it shapes what we can know. Evaluate this claim with reference to different areas of knowledge.
According to the Sapir-Whorf Theory, language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is the shaper of ideas. The Sapir-Whorf Thesis states that language controls what we think and determines and limits our thoughts. Many language experts identify with the Sapir-Whorf Theory and among these is Wittgenstein, who once said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”. Thus, many believe that the vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge and rather, it shapes what we can know. However, to what extent can this statement be said to be true? Is vocabulary really the only way to communicate our knowledge? What else can vocabulary do besides communicate knowledge? Do you need to be able to communicate your knowledge to show your knowledge? Is our knowledge only gained through language and vocabulary? Lastly, if vocabulary “shapes” what we can know, can we say that knowing more languages will gain us access to more knowledge?
First of all, vocabulary refers to the body of words that are used in a particular language, such as the very words I am using to write this essay. Without vocabulary, there are no words and as a result, language is also non-existent. Imagine a life without words; we cannot describe or speak out the ideas in our mind, we cannot ask questions, or communicate with one another. In fact, even when we think in our mind, it involves the use of words. Does that mean that without words we would not have thoughts? Without vocabulary and language, we would not know most of the current knowledge that we do today. Think about the knowledge that we currently possess; many of us would agree that most of the knowledge that we currently have and understand is learnt through school, books and education--- but how could we have possibly grasped all the physics theories, math formulas and others that we’ve learnt without the use of vocabulary or words? How would the teachers teach in a world where language is non-existent? Books would just be a fictitious myth if language does not exist. How could we expand our knowledge capabilities through reading if books do not exist?
Thus, in a way vocabulary shapes what we can know because without vocabulary, we cannot communicate with one another and thus, knowledge cannot be passed down or shared. As a result, the knowledge we know will be limited to only what we experience or discover by ourselves. However, we would not have the ability to have knowledge about other people’s experiences or way of life and culture. For example, the Aloe Vera plant originated from Northern India and is now regarded highly for its healing and rejuvenating properties. Its antiquity was first discovered in 1862 in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1550 BC. Thus, the healing power of Aloe Vera was first discovered by ancient Egyptians, who decided to note this down on a piece of papyrus. If language had not existed and the ancient Egyptians during that time had decided not to write down the healing properties of Aloe Vera, that sliver of knowledge would not be passed down and shared among us and we would not know what we know today. We would not be able to benefit from the natural therapeutic quality of Aloe Vera. Therefore, in this example, language and vocabulary has shown to be a powerful tool for communicating knowledge.
In a way, vocabulary does shape what we can know but to what extent is this true? Can vocabulary be said to be the crux of knowledge? Is vocabulary really the only method to communicate and share knowledge?
Although vocabulary can be said to make up a large part of our understanding and our knowledge, it is not the only way that we can learn and gain knowledge. Another way would be through our own life experiences. For example, when we touch a hot cup of coffee...
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