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Power Of The Words

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It is generally agreed that language and the ability to create language is what separates humankind from the rest of creation. With language we have built cities, civilizations, art, and an understanding of the world around us. Words are integral to both the history of our species as well as our knowledge of it. Lacking in many natural protective adaptations, we rely on the ability to communicate information between our peers and from one generation to the next. There is no doubt that words are powerful tools, and words have destroyed enough cities, lives, and reputations to prove their potential treachery. But how does this affect the areas of knowing?

The most evident effects of language lie in the human sciences. Psychology and psychiatry rely almost entirely on the verbal input of the subject. This allows for a deeper understanding than the scannings of brainwaves or behavioral observations without motives. This is a major positive influence of words, but words can just as easily be misleading. When my parents insisted I visit a psychiatrist I felt betrayed and worried that my parents would be given access to the secret parts of my life and my sense of privacy was disturbed. My solution was, though not entirely intentional, to limit the scope of our conversations to explanations of my childhood and complaints in the present that pertained to my family. In this way my words denied the psychiatrist an understanding of what was wrong and I missed an opportunity for help. With same selective truth negatively affects the political understanding. In every totalitarian regime words were and are censored to the point that only language politically beneficial to the ruling party were released to the public. This historical tendency has been noted by many and is often portrayed in novels exploring dystopian societies. Most particularly in George Orwell's (a man noted for his understanding of the power of words) 1984 in which the totalitarian regime manipulates the very composition of their language, eliminating words like liberty and revolution, and changing words like equal to fit only one meaning (equal is changed to mean only similarity of physical features). The manipulation and selection of language can rally people together by limiting their knowledge

This same sort of selection affects historical understanding as well. Historiography is the study of different accounts of history, recognizing the fact that what one group might call the conversion of savages, another might call the massacre and forced brainwashing of a native civilization. The words are different, though the events are the same. Several weeks ago I was completing an assignment of comparative government systems for my US Government class when I ran across this quote:

"The Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland...

established and assembly in which unionists [Ulsters]

and nationalists [Sinn Fein] could share the task of

governing...The Northern Ireland Assembly [NIA] has

wide authority on legislation matters"

I have a close friend of Irish descent who keeps a close watch on Irish politics and knows their history very well, and I knew all of the facts stated in this passage were true. What struck me, however, was all the facts they left out. My friend has informed me that the loyalist Ulster party has refused to elect an executive, an act required for any power to be given to the NIA, on insistence that the members of the nationalist Sinn Fein party be removed from the Assembly. Since then an official has been elected (2 years after the Good Friday agreement was passed), the assembly has been closed twice, and last November general elections were held. Presently the loyalists still refuse to meet and the Northern Ireland Assembly has been active for a total of perhaps one month since its creation in May of 1998. My textbook would have me believe Great Britain to be the noble protector if Ireland, pretending Britain has delegated much of the responsibility to a self-governing system. It simply isn't true, though none of their words are false, the choice of tone, combined with the omittance of several facts seems to, in fact, change history. The same flexibility of language that allows for poetry and double-meaning puns allows for opinion and preference to be expressing in the recitation of facts, resulting in skewed or altered perception/understanding of history.

Mathematics, on the other hand, uses very rigid language, and much of this manipulation through ambiguity is eliminated. One of the essential parts of mathematics is the establishment of definitions, marked by the phrase "if and only if" that denotes an interchangeability between the term and its definition. Every symbol in math has one meaning. Epsilon means sum, delta means difference, theta means degrees, pi indicates the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle. All of these mean just that, and nothing more. If two mathematicians tackle the same problem and arrive at different answers,

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