Disappointment -- No soul? LO12213

ray evans harrell (mcore@soho.ios.com)
Mon, 27 Jan 1997 02:22:08 -0800

Replying to LO12189 --

Rol Fessenden wrote:

> Anumber of people have commented on the disadvantages of scientific
> thinking and also on the disadvantages of English as the lingua franca of
> the world. Having had a lot of experience in both fields, I am optimistic
> that the situation is not so bleak as perhaps perceived.

Hi Rol, your reply is sensitive and human as always. And I would not
try to dissuade your optimism for anything. I do have a couple of

> A few words on science: It is certainly true that most people think of
> science as the language of 'fact'. The good news is that all the best
> scientists understand that all of scientific 'fact' is really about
> metaphor. Scientists construct theories in terms of other systems that we
> think we understand. All of the good science -- that on the boundaries of
> what we think we know -- is about ambiguous and unclear metaphor. This is
> actually where all the fun is.

I agree about the fun, however, the belief about reality and metaphor is
much older than that. It was and still is the belief of many native
peoples whose languages are built around the verb and so the concrete
is exactly that "concrete." I am working on an answer for Mnr AM de
Lange on several of these processes, as well as a discussion for Bill
Hobler on the manifestation of metaphorical language in a community
council situation. The problem is still, however, put simply English.
For the general public English doesn't mean metaphor but concrete
reality. DIRECT OBJECT of the ACTION. Not the action as the reality
itself. If you want an example, see the Canadian Film "Medicine
River" which is a version of Native thought in English. It almost
doesn't make sense, except on a manipulative sort of mystical plane.
But of course it does make perfect sense and what is bad in English
is caring in the other context.

> Regarding English as the lingua franca of business, this may be a
> disadvantage for the person who only speaks English, but need not be.
> First, understand that if 2 Indonesians are trying to do business, yes
> they will be able to work faster and more clearly than an American and an
> Indonesian. But if one of them is Japanese, one Indonesian, and one
> American, then there is no advantage. They all use English as their only
> common language. In West Africa the universal language is not English,
> it is Dioula. But there must be a universal trade language, because there
> are 78 different language dialects in Ivory Coast alone. Without a common
> language there is no communication at all. In East Africa there is
> another universal language. But there is always some universal language.
> It happens that it is English in most of the world.

We also had a universal language done with hands. It was so precise that
whole books were dictated in it before the EA learned the native tongues.
We considered it "bad manners" to speak in another person's tongue. That
language was their "intellectual capital" and they were the only one's
who really knew what the words meant on all levels. If someone did learn
another language they were supposed to mis-pronounce an obvious word so
that the people who were doing business would understand that they were
not mis-representing themselves. To do so could cause a war. We always
took trade very seriously.

The problem of culture is an interesting one. Have you encountered any
traditional people in Africa who consider the English cultureless for
having given away their language? Consider the problem of style in
expression of the deepest religious thoughts. The King James is not the
same as the Hebrew. The difference in style creates a different world
completely. There is an interesting article called "Shakespeare in the
Bush" where an anthropologist took Hamlet to an African nation where she
was doing research. She was sure that the themes of Hamlet were
universal. What she found was that Hamlet told through the reality of
the elders of her village was nothing like the English. They did
volunteer to teach any Englishmen about it if they wanted to learn.

RF continues:
> The far more important point is that while there are certainly ugly
> Americans, there are for more who are appreciative of other cultures. And
> it is this -- appreciation, admiration, struggle to understand -- that is
> more important. These attitudes and values do not require language
> ability, but it certainly does help to share the language.

Forgive me Rol, but I don't believe that you are answering what I was
addressing in my earlier post. Perhaps Clifford Geertz has said it the
most clearly when he refers to this type of thought as "cognitivist" or
the belief that we are all in this together trying to solve the same
problems with different tools but at the root we are all human. In
Geertz's discussion with the theater director Jonathan Miller in the book
"States of Mind" (Pantheon NY 1983) he traces the history of these images
of other cultures as viewed through Western perception and literature.
While it certainly does demand our learning other languages, it is the
learning of the deeper thought processes that the languages are a part of,
that seems of first importance. The Japanese, for example, are learning
everything including all of the great works of Western performing arts.
All within a Japanese context of course, and they are as capable of being
as "arrogant" in their opinions about what they believe about the meaning
of our culture, as any Americans on these issues in reverse. I am
suggesting that the genius of English must be recognized by English
speakers and the limits as well, otherwise, in a competitive situation we
are at a disadvantage. Use "extreme fighting" as a metaphor and things
are clearer.

It is always good to dialogue with you,

Ray Evans Harrell


ray evans harrell <mcore@soho.ios.com>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>