Philosophy of Man I Perception

“Linguistic ability affects man in his specifically animal operations.” Discuss with reference to any one of the senses.

In the following assignment, we intend discussing the way our linguistic abilities affect man’s specifically animal operations. We would like to start by pointing out the advantages this ability gives us, and how it distinguishes the human being from the animal. Moreover, we will analyse the way in which language influences us as human beings with particular reference to vision.

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It is a universally acknowledged fact that human beings possess a larger brain than animals. This allows us to co-ordinate our lives better and communicate with each other on a higher, more sophisticated level. We exchange information through the use of language. Language is a mode of communication where from a limited number of words we can produce an infinite number of sentences. It gives us the chance to discuss ideas, and look at the world with a critical eye. This process provides us with the opportunity to stimulate our intelligence which in turn enables us to improve our means of communication. It is of utmost importance to note that we have developed our linguistic abilities in as much as we not only have the option of interacting verbally and through signs but also on a written basis. This means that we do not always have to be face- to face with someone, but can also exchange information over long distances and refer across time.

In other words the fundamental difference between man and all other creatures on the planet is that man has linguistic abilities and that we are able to reflect, whereas animals simply act on instinct. It is language which enables us to move from instinct to consciousness and self-consciousness. Through our ability to verbally communicate with each other, our language can replace and emphasise certain actions. Animals, on the other hand can only show affection towards each other by either licking each other’s faces or playing together. We humans not only show affection through body contact, but also through the way we express ourselves. Furthermore, the only way that animals can solve their indifferences is through physically attacking each other, whereas we can resolve our interpersonal conflicts through a rational discussion. This is all due to the fact that human beings are able to verbally communicate their feelings, emotions and thoughts.

The central question still to be examined is : How does language actually influence our specifically animal operations ?
A case in point would be that when we look at an object, for example a tree, do we see it in its pure, realistic and natural way or is language imposing a certain influence on the way we look at this tree ? Do we regard it as an object of nature which is a tall woody plant having a single, usually, long and straight main stem, generally with a few or no branches on its lower part ? Or are we simply seeing it that way because of the context of the language in our culture ? One theory which supports this point of view is the Saphir – Whorf hypothesis. It suggests that the structure of a language influences the way in which its speakers view the world today. Since the languages of the world differ greatly in regard to their semantic and structural characteristics, it seems somewhat logical to argue that people speaking widely different languages would also differ in the way they viewed and thought about the world. An example may illustrate this point. If one must classify things such as camels, automobiles or snow in certain ways, then one must perceive them differently from someone who does not require to make these distinctions. Eskimos may have a number of different meanings for the word snow, whereas we only have one. In Maltese, for example, there is no word which specifically describes the word ” snow “. It is translated as ” silg” which literally translated means ” ice “.
From this we can deduce that it is still debatable whether we perceive the world in its real form or whether we are affected by the language of our society without us realising. Hence one can infer that language imposes meaning on everything existing in our world through the human being.
If it were not for our need to communicate meaning, language would not exist. Of all the functions of language, the communication of meaning from one person to another is one of the most significant. Consequently, meaning must be placed at the centre of any attempt to explain language. But, meaning lies not in the words but in the people. We use words to approximate the meanings we wish to communicate, but these words still remain imperfect and incomplete representations of our meanings.

After having delved deeper into this subject, we can conclude that language is the trait which decisively distinguishes man from all other creatures and that human language is arguably that single most remarkable characteristic which we have, the one that most truly sets our species apart. Without language we could hardly have created the human world we know. We owe it to this unique characteristic that we have been able to develop our world the way we know it today. Hence, we can say that language is what makes us human and human language is unique. Undeniably, other creatures do have a way of communicating with each other and appear to do this through some sort of signalling system which allows them to pass on information within their species and occasionally even with members outside their own species. The bottom line is that the human language is so utterly different from all of these other signalling systems, that we are obliged to treat it as a truly unique phenomenon.
*Ronald Wardhaugh, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, Second edition, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1996.

* Joseph A. DeVito, Human Communication – The Basic Course, Fifth edition, Harper Collins Publishers Inc, 1991.

*R.L. Trask, Language – The Basics, Routledge,1996