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Language and Communication - Introdution Vol.5 - Language and Reasoning

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Language and Communication

Contents

1. Quote

*Language and Reasoning

  Although humans can think without using language, most of the reasoning we do is done in connection with language.  When we hear an advertising claim like Airklean removes dust particles from the air, we might draw the inference that the Airklean product will make the air in our houses clean.  However, this is not what the advertising claim says.  This claim says that the product removes dust particles from the air, but it does not tell us how much dust is removed from the air.  It might remove just five or ten percent of the dust in air.  Similarly, when an advertiser says that his medication contains the most effective ingredient, we draw the inference that the medication will be effective.  However, saying that a medication contains the most effective ingredient does not mean that the medication is effective - it might not contain enough of this ingredient to do us any good.
  As these examples illustrate, we often draw inferences from advertising claims that are invalid from the point of view of logic.  We do this, not because we are stupid or ignorant, but because when we learn a language, we learn not only what sentences mean, but also a complex system of inference-drawing that we are supposed to use in conversation.  When someone says
  (4) Could you pass me the salt?
he or she also seems to be asking a yes-no question about someone’s ability to pass the speaker the salt shaker, but, in fact, the speaker means to be making a polite request.  If someone says
  (5) Do you think you ought to push the button so hard?
he or she seems to be asking a yes-no question, but in fact the speaker means to be making a suggestion that the listener not push the button so hard.  It is clear from this that speakers expect hearers to draw inferences from what they say that are not, strictly speaking, valid inferences.
  If someone wishes to learn a language properly, he or she must learn not only what sentences mean, but also what sentences imply.  We must learn that yes-no questions are sometimes meant to be questions, but in many other cases are meant to be requests or suggestions or even assertions.  It can be argued that advertisers and politicians and others sometimes exploit our system of inference-drawing in their efforts to get people to buy products or vote for someone.  As a result, we must learn as much as we can about systems of inference-drawing, and how they can be exploited, if we are to avoid being fooled.
  In chapters five through eight of this book, we shall focus on the issue of meaning - on the meanings of words and sentences and on the inferences we draw from sentences.  This will prepare us for a discussion in chapter twelve of the language of advertising, which is a topic which is quite interesting and important.

(Michael L. Geis, Language and Communication, Oxford, OUP, 2001, pp.5-6, ll.2-23)

2. Analysis

2-1. Trick of Inference-Drawing

when we learn a language, we learn not only what sentences mean, but also a complex system of inference-drawing that we are supposed to use in conversation.

We habitually not just understand the meaning of sentences but draw infereces by reading between the lines so that we can detect the implication.
This ability is what we natually acquire with inference-drawing system when we learn a language The capability changes orders to polite requests and generates euphemism.
It normally works in good ways, and yet it can also be exploited in bad ways.
The quote show some good examples.

It can be argued that advertisers and politicians and others sometimes exploit our system of inference-drawing in their efforts to get people to buy products or vote for someone.

The advertising claim, Airklean removes dust particles from the air, is the very example.
Judging from the the blurb, it is unknown how much Airklean gets rid of dust particles from the air as no data is shown.
Notwithstanding, when we find this advertising, we can expect that this product is quite functional for air cleaning.
In addition, here is another important point although it is not mentions in the quote.
We see that the product name is Airklean, not Airclean.
This is pretty misleadning because it intends to make us take klean for clean.
Provided the product was Airclean, it would not be allowed to be displayed in a market unless it clears enough dust particles from the air to live up to a standard.
But, Airklean is not necessarily redarded as an air cleaner, so it might not have to meet the standards even if it had terribly poor performance.
This tricky spelling is a familiar example that abuses our infereces-drawing system.
The only way to avoid being deceived can be turn on and off this infereces-drawing ability accroding to the occasion and context.
Message cannot be interpreted in a right way unless we try to understand its implication as well as explication.

2-2. Question as Not a Question

There are 2 types of question in the quote.
One is Could you pass me the salt?, and the other is Do you think you ought to push the button so hard?.
Please refer to the quote for the details.

Here, I would like to pick up another 2 patterns.

2-2-1. Raising a Problem

When we read a news article or a critisism, we encounter a interrogative sentence in a subhead or at the beginning of the first paragraph.
For example, this article from BBC, India's coronavirus infections top five million mark, has the subhead How did India get here?.
Media like newspaper is basically one-way communication, so this question does not expect to get responce from readers.
Then, what this question is for? It is the very raise of subject and declares that the author will discuss an issue.
Although writes provides a question, he explains the facts, logic and arrives at the conclusion by themselves.

2-2-2. Rhetrical Question

  • Who on earth knows the astonishing fact? → Nobody ever knows the astonishing fact.
  • Who the hell cannot complete that easy mission? → Anyone can necessarily complete that easy mission.

As 2 examples above, the true meaning is very opposite to the seeming text.
Also, it strongly emphasizes the intention by bothering to make the meaning opposite.

We apply this method to irony.
For instance, what if some arrives late in your workplace.
You would lay stress on what you mean by saying rather Wow, you've arrived surprisingly early! than Why are you this late? As we see, the true meaning is very opposite to the seeming text.
This is also supported by our inferece-drawing system we have in common.

3. Reference

Michal L. Geis, Language and Communication, Oxford, OUP, 2001 * India's coronavirus infections top five million mark - BBC News - Last Accessed: 17 September 2020