IAT 811 – Week 9, Language

The chapter entitled Language, written by Cary Wolfe, from the book Critical Terms for Media Studies by W.J.T. Mitchell and Mark B.N.Hansen looks at language through the digital media studies lens.

The usual topics come up such as the differing perspectives of language – from linguistics, cognitive sciences, and ethics. Others include how to map and model how humans see and use language, and how ontologies and the phenomenological perspectives allow for a fairly subjective and elastic placement of meaning.

One interesting topic that comes up is how human language is a “world-within-the-world” where “a world of abstract meaning and concepts” is something that is not understood by animals other than the humans that use this type of communication. So for example, we can teach Rover to jump, sit, speak, shake-a-paw – and he will understand and mostly comply with said request (assuming a doggy treat has been suggested). However, what Rover cannot do is understand that the reason why we don’t want to throw the ball in the back yard today is because we are feeling melancholy due to a bad experience in the office – assuming we could articulate this abstract idea with words that Rover would understand.

Another topic that came up was the notion that human language is a digital system. At first this sounds silly and definitely invalid. But the context (and argument) given with the example “the word ‘big’ is not bigger than the word ‘little’”. This is from Gregory Bateson and what he’s trying to point out is that a context is needed before a “magnitude” or relation can be formed. Indeed a “little” brontosaurus is bigger than a “huge” ant. Context tells us this.

One of the more interesting aspects of language (at least for me) is its ability to be both a medium of communication, but also a message – as is the case in art. One particular type that has always appealed to me is typographic art. Typographic art offers the literal message using symbols that form words, but those formed words can be visually characterized to a context and given a feeling. Doing so allows the minimalistic approach of words along with a visual overlay that conveys a deeper meaning (“second order communication” as Cary Wolfe states.

The blog entitled 50 Examples of Beautiful Typographic Art from Design Shack offers up a visually pleasing online digital art gallery of some creative and imaginative ways of expressing using words and the art of typography to offer a second order communication.

For many of us, language is the beginnings of creation of ideas and worlds and the stories that we love to tell, retell, and have told to us.

Leave me a Comment