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Uses and Abuses of Language
The Uses of Language
1. Our textbook talks about the cognitive and emotive uses of language. We will expand on these to include four categories:
a) cognitive or informative
There are appropriate inquiries designed to clarify the meaning when language is used in each of these ways.
2. Cognitive: An informative use - gives information or states facts. Also known as the denotation of a word.
Example: "Hey, you've got a flat".
Here, the inquiry would focus on an effort to obtain details about the offered information.
"What do you mean by flat?"
"How flat is it?"
"Is there enough air to get me to the gas station?"
Note: Cognitive meaning can also be clarified with a good dictionary and thesaurus.
3. Emotive: Appealing to or expressing strong feelings - evoking an emotional response. Sometimes known as the connotation of a word.
Inquiry: Here, "The medium is usually the message" that is, the best strategy to clarify meaning is to carefully observe and perhaps to empathize.
4. Many words have an emotive meaning in addition to a cognitive meaning. Almost any word may have a positive emotive meaning for someone and a negative emotive meaning for someone else (or vice-versa).
Examples of negative emotive meaning: faggot, bitch, bastard, nerd, wimp, ass-hole, slavery, death, pain, failure.
Examples of positive emotive meaning: freedom, love, peace, happiness, fun, pleasure.
Examples of no emotive meaning: paper, walk, wall, pencil, street, desk.
Examples of variable or mixed emotive meaning: work, school, marriage, capitalism, socialism, drugs, beer, corporation, God, president.
Examples of the same cognitive meaning and different emotive meanings:
government official (neutral)
public servant (positive)
maintenance engineer (positive)
unmarried woman (neutral)
single woman (positive)
5. Evaluative: judging good or bad, like or hate, preferences, value judgments.
Example: "I believe that the president is doing a great job trying to control the pollution of the environment."
Inquiry: "What exactly leads you to believe that he is doing a great job?". "Exactly what has he done?". "What are your standards for greatness here?". The inquiry should focus on identifying criteria that are in operation which lead to the author's judgment.
6. Directive: a command, order, directive, or strong suggestion that someone should do something.
Here the inquiry is two-fold. It is important to clarify the implied judgment. When one is directing, it is usually implied that the thing one is directed towards ought to be done. Hence, it is important to clarify the criteria at work. Also it is important to clarify the license of the person doing the directing.
Example: "Go clean up your room."
criteria - What makes you think it is too messy or dirty?", that is, what are your standards for cleanliness?".
license - "What gives you the right (license) to direct me in this issue?".