Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Construing Experience

Can you experience without language? Certainly. But can you make any sense of your experience without language? Language enables us to construe experience, to make meaning of the stream of experience that is our journey through life. Language helps to divide experience into categories which, through experience and socialisation, become recognisable to the extent that they seem natural. It must be pointed out that these categories do not exist 'out there'. The categories that we use to make meaning are those that have developed within our communities. They seem natural because they are the categories we use to make meaning in every interaction with our environment, including interactions with everyone else who is doing the same thing.
(another lazy cut&paste from my Goodreads.com page)

To learn more about this great book through carefully selected and categorized quotations look at Chris Cleirigh's "sys-fun" pages. Here is a very good example.
"Language is set apart, however, as the prototypical semiotic system, on a variety of different grounds: it is the only one that evolved specifically as a semiotic system; it is the one semiotic into which all others can be “translated”; and it is the one whereby the human species as a whole, and each individual member of that species, construes experience and constructs a social order. In this last respect, all other semiotic systems are derivative: they have meaning potential only by reference to models of experience, and forms of social relationship, that have already been established in language. It is this that justifies us in taking language as the prototype of systems of meaning." Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 509-10).
That is, we can make meaning through a variety of modes (visual, including photography, graphic design and visual art, aural, including music, and others) and as a result of a register variation (either through natural language - academic text, scientific jargon or air traffic controllers instructions - or through semiotic systems derived from natural language, particularly mathematics), but only because we can mediate their meaning through language.

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