How does language shape knowledge or what is it possible to know? Does the    importance of language in an area of knowledge ground it in a particular culture? How are metaphors used in the construction of knowledge?

Before we start, over to you. You speak at least one language, probably more. You speak it well. You are an expert, or at least pretty proficient, in its use. So you tell me…

What is the role of language in knowing? How does it influence what you know or how you know it? Brainstorm with a partner for a few minutes.


Here’s American comedian George Carlin on Language. Suitably enough this clip carries a language warning. Some of the language he uses might seem inappropriate for a classroom setting . Why is that?

When you’ve watched it, record your immediate impressions in your TOK journal.

 Here’s the same clip hosted on yukou in case you cannot access the YouTube site:


Here is a more formal take on what language is about. Let’s have a look:

LANGUAGE as a Way of Knowing


Common Language?

George Bernard Shaw famously said that ‘England and America are two countries separated by a common language.’ What do you suppose he meant?

Here’s Hugh Laurie (of Blackadder, Fry and Laurie and Dr, House fame)  on the Ellen Show, demonstrating Shaw’s point.


Here are some questions about language. Choose one (1-5), and reflect on it in your journal. Make sure you write out the question in your journal too, so we know what you are writing about when we read it!

  1. How have spoken sounds acquired meaning? What is the nature of the connection between the sounds and what they are taken to represent?
  2. Is it possible to think without language? How does language extend, direct, or even limit thinking?
  3. To what extent does language generalize individual experience, classifying it within the experience of the group? To what extent does a personal experience elude expression in language?
  4. Can language be compared with other human forms of symbolic representation, such as conventionalized gestures, sign language for the deaf, dance, painting, music or mathematics? What might language share with these other forms in the communication of what we know? In what ways might it be considered distinct?
  5. To what extent is knowledge implicit in language? For example, could it be said that ‘Saturday is in bed’ does not convey meaning, even though the sentence is syntactically correct, because of the prior knowledge that days of the week are not physical objects?


Follow this LINK to find 12 activities on the role of language in knowledge. (Whilst you are there, have a look a round – it’s a great TOK site.) You are going to be given one of these with a partner to research and then present back to the class.


Taylor Mali with a rather puerile poem on proofreading. (This means re-reading your own work to find errors and correct them, in case you didn’t know!)


Learning grammar from another language can be tough – as Brian found out the hard way:


Translation issues – marketing errors: Language Pepsi brings your anscestors back

Sapir-Worf: Sapir-Worf Hypothesis


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *