Theory of Knowledge

Last updated June 2020.

Senior Library collection

Metaphors We Live By

The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects.

The stuff of thought

Why do so many swear words involve topics like sex, bodily functions or the divine? Why do some children's names thrive while others fall out of favour? Why do we threaten and bribe and seduce in such elaborate, often comical ways?

Language and Mind

The first six chapters, originally published in the 1960s, made a groundbreaking contribution to linguistic theory.Over the past fifty years, this framework has sparked an explosion of inquiry into a wide range of languages, and has yielded some major theoretical questions.

Introducing Linguistics

Covering thinkers from Aristotle to Saussure and Chomsky, "Introducing Linguistics" reveals the rules and beauty that underlie language, our most human skill.

Language in thought and action

In an era when communication has become increasingly diverse and complex, this classic work on semantics distills the relationship between language and those who use it

Videos on language

Weblinks on language

Language - Key concepts

Key words - ambiguity, grammar, idioms, classification, euphemism, metaphor, irony, jargon, innuendo

Key concepts

What is languageLanguage is rule-governed, language is intended, creative and open-ended.

The problem of meaning - Since much of our language comes to us in the form of language, we need to be clear about the meaning of words if we are to understand the information that is being communicated to us. 

Language and translation, Labels and stereotypes, Language and though, Language and values

How do we learn language? Language is part of our human heritage, passed from parents to children and developed to take its particular form within the speech communities

Language : symbolic system - Language, our primary form of symbolic communication, is complemented by mathematics, music, painting, sculpture, photography, film, maps and scientific models, all with their own forms of communication

Perspectives in language - Language does not simply record the world neutrally but largely creates the meaning we associate with it. Our use of both ways of knowing is influenced by the perspectives - cultural,political, religious, professional and so forth

Cultural perspective in language - As languages die out in the face of globalization, we have a particular impetus to consider the relationship between language, culture, and knowledge. Language is the primary means by which the knowledge of one generation is passed on to the next, so the impact of language loss is grave.

Click to see source of above

Language - Questions for reflection

?? How much could you know about the world if you had no language or means of communicating with other people?

?? How easy is it to misunderstand the body language of someone from a different culture?

?? Do you think animals have language ?

?? Is it possible to think without language? How does language facilitate, extend, direct or limit thinking?

?? To what extent is your use of language accompanied by images?  Does every word conjure up an image or only some of them? 

?? Do you think communication would be improved if we got rid of vague words, or do you think they sometimes serve a useful purpose?

?? To what extent can punctuation help to reduce the ambiguity of a sentence?

?? In what ways does learning a second language contribute to, and expand, your knowledge of the world? Give some examples of words in your own language, or your second language, which have no precise English equivalent.

?? What are the main advantages and disadvantages of classifying people according to their nationality?

?? If you are fluent in more than one language, to what extent do you think differently when you switch between languages? 

??  What kinds of experiences elude language altogether? Do we have alternative means of communication?

Quotes on Language

'How often misused words generate misleading thoughts'.  Herbert Spencer

'The limits of my language stand for the limits of my world'  Ludwig Wittgenstein

'If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought'  George Orwell

'Language was given to man to disguise his thoughts'   Talleyrand

'Who does not know another language, does not know his own'  Goethe

'Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everyting since has just made our words travel faster or last longer'  Steven Pinker

'Man is the animal that speaks. Understanding language is thus the key to understanding man'  Thomas Szasz

Internet Slang quiz




How well do you know internet slang?