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Friday, February 5, 2021

“Dialog of the Deaf” (T G Ash)

When we think, we are talking to ourselves. When we speak or write, obviously we are communicating with others. We use language for both. I have always felt intuitively, long before I started reading in several languages that language can facilitate or hinder inner conversation (thought) and external communication. Language can be liberating or constricting. Language can help expand our imagination or make us think in circles and make us into verbal pretzels!

When people from different cultures and languages speak (discuss), I often wonder whether they agree fully on what they are talking about. It is relatively easy to find words for concrete things such as the name of a tree or a flower or an animal in different languages. Even in naming concrete objects, there may be difficulties in languages which use pictograph for words, such as Chinese. My guess is that it will be even more difficult to find corresponding words in Chinese (and other languages) for concepts such as freedom. In such a situation, a discussion may be nothing more than a “dialog of the deaf” as pointed out by T G Ash in his book on Free Speech:  Ten Principles for a Connected World (Yale University Press, New Haven 2017).

T G Ash points out that Chinese authors had difficulty finding suitable Chinese words for concepts such as liberty and freedom. When asked to find translation for the title of the book On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, the best the Chinese scholars could come up was “The boundary between self and group”! The closest Chinese expression of the English word “opinion” was “true or false”!!

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