Language as a Way Of Knowing: Intro

How does Language influence WHAT we know and HOW we know it?

*adapted from Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma




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

“Thought is not merely expressed in words, it comes into existence through them” – L. Vygotsky

“Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel faster or last longer” – Steven Pinker

“Language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is the shaper of ideas. ..We dissect nature along the lines laid down by our native languages” – Benjamin Whorf

“Who does not know another language does not know his own” – Goethe

“Almost all education is language education” – Neil Postman

“Language was given to man to disguise his thoughts” – Tallyrand

“The word is half his that speaks, and half his that hears it”- Michel de Montaigne


REASON: How many arguments turn out to be about the meaning of words? How do the nuances of words affect what we know and how we know it? How does language extend, direct, or limit thinking? How do we define a language (what makes a language?)

EMOTION: Does the way you describe something affect how you feel about it? What is the power of language? What roles do context, emotion, selection, emphasis, and word choice play in language?

PERCEPTION: How does language affect the way we see things, and vice versa? How does written language affect knowledge differently than spoken language?

RELIGION: Does religious experience lie beyond language expression?

MATHS: How is mathematics like a language?

TECHNOLOGY: How are programming languages like other languages? How have tech innovations altered the way we communicate with language?

HUMAN SCIENCE: Is language unique to human beings? Why is command of language important? Is it possible to think without language? How and why to languages evolve and what is the effect?

NATURAL SCIENCE: What role do metaphors play in the sciences?

HISTORY: Is it possible to describe historical events in an unbiased way? How can language be used as propaganda? How does the status  of a language change over time?

ARTS: In what ways can the arts be considered the language if human emotions?

ETHICS: To what extent should offensive language be censored? Can a language be banned?


– A great deal of our knowledge comes from language and this makes possible an intellectual division of labor

– Language is: rule-governed, intended, and creative

– We need to understand the meaning of a sentence before we can decide if it is true or false

– A great deal of language is ambiguous and there is a great deal of interpretation built into all communication.

– Since we use language to interpret and classify, there is a danger that we misclassify and stereotype things

– Language can influence our experience of reality

– Language is used to describe, influence, persuade, and manipulate the way people see things

– Whether or not there are some truths that lie beyond language is a matter of debate

What about TWITTER?

The Birth of a Word – from Gaga to Water


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

2. What are some examples of words that have entered the English language as a result of the computer revolution?

3. Try to define as precisely as possible these words: a. triangle    b. love     c. table  What is the difference? Which was easiest to define?

4. How would you try to explain to a blind person what the word RED means? What does this suggest to you about the limitations of definitions?

5. To what extent is your use of languages accompanied by images? Does every word conjur up an image or only some of them?

6. Do you think a robot (or Siri) could use and respond appropriately to language? What differences would it make in real life if that were the case?

7. Do you think communication would be improved if we got rid of vague words?  DO you think vague or ambiguous words sometimes serve a purpose?

8. Many jokes are based on ambuguity…can you give an example?

9. When Bill Clinton entered the White House in `93, his wife Hillary wanted to be known as “Presidential Partner”, not “First Lady”. What is the difference in connotations? If a woman ever would become president of the USA, what do yo think would be an appropriate title for her husband?

10. Birds fly and planes fly. Since fish swim, why don’t we say that submarines also swim? What do submarines do?

11. What would be the advantages  and disadvantages of everyone in the world spoke a common language? What would be gained and what would be lost?

12. What can or have you learned about your own language by studying a second language? can you provide examples from your second language which have no English equivalent? What about idioms (expressions)?

13. What kind of texts do you think are easy to translate from one language to another and what kinds are more difficult? Can you provide an example from your study of L’Etranger by Camus?

14. In what ways to we classify people (e.g. astrological sign, race, nationality, music choice, etc.) and what are the advatnages and disadvantages of this? Are some more natural or better than others? How many ways can YOU be classified via language?

15. Take 2 advertising slogans of your choice – such as “Just Do It” by Nike- explain why you think they are effective (or not)

16. A lot of advertisers describe products as “natural”, because there are connotations that “natural” or “organic” is good. Can you give examples when “natural/ organic” is bad?

17. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” – Analyze the way language is used in each of these pairs of expressions: pro-life/pro-choice; genetically-modified food/ Frankenstein food; Free speech/ Hate Speech; “Blocking your child’s access to objectionable material on the Internet is not called Censorship, it;s called Parenting” (Al Gore); piracy/ file-sharing

18. In 1947 the U.S. Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense. Do you think this makes a difference? Explain.

19. Do you agree with the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”? In light of the effects of cyberbullying, how might you analyse this quote?

20. The “Political Correctness” movement has been popular in the past 2 decades, striving to use language to change attitudes to the oppressed or disadvantaged. What examples can you give of “PC language” or a “PC incident” and what are your personal thoughts?

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READ ABOUT the 6 Important ways TEXTING is changing communication – in a creative way


answers may be WRITTEN (blogged) , VLOGGED, SKETCHNOTED (perhaps then thrown into Thinglink for additional annotation), OR CURATED in Storify (with a mix of original text, images, sites, video, tweets, etc.)

**for annotated video, try Popcornmaker or Weavly OR Touchcast if you have access to an iPad.

1. READ pages 32-49 in your Green TOK Course Companion.

2. Choose 2 items from the list of QUOTES and LINKING QUESTIONS. Comment on them with your own personal thoughts and real-life examples from the world or your experiences. Find a related article or video that would support your answer, and describe how it does. You can research on your own or use the HANDY DIIGO LIST of almost 100 sources to help.

4. CHOOSE SIX (6) of the 20 proposed Blog Questions and answer them thoughtfully, providing examples as you go. Relate it to your own experience. Try to find other articles, tweets, images or videos that would support your answer and post along with it. (The more resources you have later, the better)

5. COMMENT with your own personal thoughts or questions on the 4 VIDEOS found on this blog post.

PART II (might be Day 2 of class): Language games




Language as a WOK: Playing with Language in Found Poetry

For our intro activity (ies) for Language as a Way of Knowing Unit, we’ll be playing with language a bit.

Here are a few things we’ll be doing, and they all relate to the “found” or serendipitous poetry concept- the fact you can manipulate everyday, mundane language into something more poetic.

***There are 7 activities. You need to choose 4, though you can do more (remix options count as 1). Please follow the instructions about posting and tagging so that searches will be expedited. If you can think of an alternative found poetry activity, please do it and post – it will contribute to our idea bank!



You will need to go the the library (they are expecting you) with your phone and spend some time perusing the shelves. Try to find at least 4-6 titles in order to create your poem, then shoot fairly close up.


REMIX opportunity: If you so desire, exchange 1-2 of your titles with a friend and see if you both can create new poem with entirely different meanings.


See the Galleries:

Post photos to your blog AND to our G+ with the #bookspinepoetry


This has been described by artist/author Austin Kleon as “if the CIA did Haiku”

If we don’t get newspaper, we can try it with Wired Magazines!

You can check out more of Austin’s work here:

After you create yours we can hang them up, but please digitize it by taking a photo and posting to your blog AND our G+ with the #blackoutpoetry


Use either digital tool to create one or more poems from the words offered to you.


Export the poem as instructed on the site and post to your blog and to our G+ with #magneticpoetry


1. First think of a few hashtags. You can see the one I did for a Love Story here:

2. Set up your Storify account if you don’t have one:

3. Search for the hashtag in the corner after clicking on the Twitter bird icon

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4. Sift through the tags to pull tweets  that create a sort of poem. You can extend this by adding relevant images as well (in Storify you can search other social media like Instagram and Flickr.

5. Publish your Storified poem (you will get a URL) and post to your blog AND to our G+ with the hashtag #twitterpoetry

OPTION: Instead of searching for tweets, you can search by tag for IMAGES (Flickr or Instagram) and then “add text” to your Storify


Check out the process and the history:


In a small group, cut up magazines and drop the words on the table…see what kinds of poetry you can make!

Take a photo and post to blogs and G+ with #cutuppoetry



Think of an entry point and see what happens. Take a screen shot, You might want to do a couple of searches and splice together.

Post on blog as well as G+ with hashtag #Googlesearchpoem

CREATIVE TASK VII: @powerpoetry ‘s game:


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@powerpoetry should send you analytics regarding the “poetic quality” of your tweet”.

Take a screen shot and post to your blog and to our G+ with #poetrywars

Play BOT or NOT? (just for fun!)

This is like a Turing test for Poetry:
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Breaking Down the Senses IV: TASTE

“The number of flavors is infinite, for every soluble body has a peculiar flavor, like none other” –Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

REMEMBER: The Price of Happiness – do more expensive things “taste” better?

What is TASTE and how is it different than FLAVOR?

(Watch the VIDEO and read the TRANSCRIPT)

Miracle Berries!

All about the 5 TASTES (LEARNIST)

Did you say “UMAMI”?

Perpectives: a UK teen tests American Food (series)


Chocolate Tasting Tips – The only thing that melts at body temperature! More about using other senses to TEST BAD OR GOOD CHOCOLATE



EXPOSED! How Expectations Bias Wine Taste

5 Crazy-Delicious Food Combos to Try

The Food Project: Museum Exhibition- The Shape of Taste


As we conclude our exploration of the various senses and Sense Perception as a Way of Knowing, let’s experiment and celebrate with an “Iron Chef” type of activity!


Class Period 1:

1. Brainstorm a list of 2 “Savory” ingredients and 2 “Sweet” ingredients and write them on the Google Spreadsheet here:


Afterwards, we’ll draw names out of a hat. When you are chosen, you will get to choose your ingredients – ANY TWO INGREDIENTS FROM ANY CATEGORY (that’s correct, you can have 2 sweet or 2 savory or 1 each, but your dish has to include BOTH so be sure to think about that)

2. There will be JUDGING CRITERIA, including categories for  “Aesthetics”, “Taste”, “Texture”, “Smell”, or “Sound” (this would include reference to the name of the dish, or even the sound it makes as it is eaten)

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Check out the class of 2014 Gallery

At Home:

1. Now that you have your 2 ingredients, start researching recipes. Have fun figuring out how to create something unique, tasty, and aesthetically pleasing and smelling.

2. You will need to prepare the dishname it, and bring everything necessary to plate it and serve it.

3. Your dish will be “tasted” not devoured, so it does not need to feed the entire class. *It also works if you create a presentation plate and then a side container of individual servings

4. IDEA: you might want to practice making and plating it at home so you have everything you need. Then try taking a photograph!

Due Date (Class Period 2):

1. On the date due (see below), you will need to bring everything needed to plate and serve your dish. You will also need to provide a card with the name of your dish and the 2 ingredients used. You are welcome to use the fridge in the Science Lab or Mrs. Morrison’s office..I will arrange with them. I don’t have a microwave, so if you need to heat something please arrange it with a teacher who has one ahead of time. As chef, you will be totally responsible.

2. Mrs. B will provide the criteria marking sheets, napkins, silverware, and drinks (and maybe some crackers to clean our palettes between tasting).

3. We will have fun tasting (in teams) the Savory and Sweet dishes, and judging them using the criteria you created. I might also film it! Then we’ll debrief using some TOK -related questions.


1. Choose 2 ingredients and incorporate both into dish

2. Practice making and plating dish

3. Name dish and create card for display

4. Bring everything you need on the date due

Resources to Help:

Describing Food and Wine (blocked at school)

Sensory Vocabulary Infographic

Over 101 Words to Describe Food

Dialogue describing food – what is “More-ish”?

Assessing Food Texture

IRON CHEF theme Ingredients List (in alpha order)

Science of the Kitchen : TEXTURE