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Language & Community — Some More or Less Clearly Defined Definitions

I feel I need to make clear how I define some terms. Although I feel as though I use most terms in a very literal manner, I think some people misunderstand what I mean because these terms sometimes have connotations which differ significantly from the way the terms are (or “ought to be) understood in a very clear and unclouded manner.

Let’s start with literacy. There is a very strong connotation that being literate is associated with being schooled and/or educated — but that is not what the term means. It simply means the ability to use written language. Furthermore, since many written languages no longer have “spoken language” equivalents, it really has less and less to do with interpersonal — in particular: spoken — communication. A couple examples might help: Literacy involves being able to read and write URLs, the code that is incorporated into HTML, and so on. When I say illiteracy is still widespread, I am merely underscoring that very few people are able to understand and use such written languages appropriately. Indeed, on many websites (including Google and Facebook), most of the written language is hidden or suppressed from clear view, because these companies attempt to hide their manipulative inclusion of “spyware” code (which is mainly incorporated for their own marketing schemes). Almost no-one (again, for example) is aware of the way Google tracks their surfing of the WWW on most websites, because the Google code incorporated into those websites is only “comprehensible” to people who are literate enough to be able to understand the source code of the sites they visit. I estimate that significantly less than 1% of any measurable population on Earth has this level of literacy — in other words: well over 99% of all populations on Earth remain illiterate at this level of literacy (See also Chapter 13Literacy = ! { an on-off switch }“). [1]

Next: Ignorance. Ignorant does not mean stupid, yet there is again a very strong connotation by association. It does not exactly mean “uninformed”, since that would also include “naive” and/or “innocent” — which are distinct from being ignorant. Ignorance simply means the act of ignoring something. Some ignorant people can also be intelligent, well-educated, come across as smart, etc. Many people — both in the past and also in the present — have ignored things such as the Holocaust, the influence of propaganda (and/or advertising), global warming and many things more. Likewise, many people ignore their own feelings, or go through a psychological process referred to as “repression”. Perhaps there is a sort of logic to some cases of ignorance, as it seems to be easier to “deal with” the world by ignoring troubling thoughts, such as being involved — even just as one tiny cog in an enormous machine — in an organization which engages in reprehensible acts (for example: a soldier who kills someone as a member of an army, “simply following orders”). Depending on the sensitivity of an individual, it may be possible that a person might overcome their own ignorance and become aware of their own involvement in such things as racism when asked to answer (for example) a question about their own “race” — do they simply give a response, or do they ask for an explanation of the term?

Finally (for now): Linguistic Community. This is quite similar to the case about literacy (described above). In this case, “language” is often interpreted as something which is taught in school or as something which can be “looked up” in a dictionary. After several centuries of such *normative standardization*, the whole notion of variations of language almost seems incomprehensible. Yet to anyone with even just a minute understanding of the study of languages, there is nearly no doubt whatsoever: each language evolves according to interactions with its environment, and these interactions happen according to the varying degrees of social cohesion within the many subcommunities of any larger community. We refer to these variations as dialects, jargons and such — the communications that actually happen within the linguistic community are the actual language; all attempts to standardize usage are simply efforts to simplify the complexity of immensely vast and highly variable data. The simplified models are not the real language, they are merely simplifications used as short-cuts in order to more easily interpret individual expressions. It would be a grave error to think that such oversimplications are more “pure” than the actual observations collected in the real world. In contrast, the real world of communications involves innumerable overlapping communication boundaries which are all more or less permeable, depending not only on the familiarity of the participants, but also their willingness to interact with each other across borders (see also Chapter 18Linguistic Empathy & Community Boundaries“).

[1] One exception might be a population of so-called “webdesigners” — yet note that it is nonetheless possible to design websites and still be unaware of significant privacy and security risks associated with including so-called “third party content”.

By New Media Works

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