Languages, Terminologies, and Mind-Sets
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Previously published in International Associations 26, 1974, 4, pp. 219-225. Also in: Les Problèmes du Langage dans la Société Internationale (Compte rendu du colloque, Paris 28-29 mars 1974). Bruxelles, Union des Associations Internationales, 1975, pp. 222-228
It is healthy to be reminded of the lack of homogeneity in international discourse. In particular it seemed to be a useful exercise to assemble together some data on the world's main languages, terminologies, and what, for want of a better word, may be called mind-sets.
Languages of the world
Somewhat surprisingly, up to date information on the number of languages spoken, their interrelationship, and the number of speakers of each language is not easily available (One would have thought that these would be regularly reported in the Unesco Statistical Yearbook). The exact number of languages is not known, mainly because there is disagreement among linguists over what constitutes a language and what constitutes a dialect. The figure of 2,700 to 3,000 languages is however frequently encountered.
There is also much difficulty in breaking the languages down into interrelated groups. A portion of linguistic debate is concerned with allocating particular languages to new parts of the currently favoured classification scheme. There are many differences of opinion on subgroupings. For this reason, it would seem, there is a tendency on the part of linguists to avoid presenting comprehensive listings. Information on the number of speakers of each language is equally elusive. The table (on pp. 222-223) is therefore a compromise among a number of different sources (The figures were obtained from Whittakers Almanac 1974; the presentation is strictly a compromise based on other sources.). It should be considered indicative only. An attempt has been made to include all languages with over one million speakers. One first important conclusion is the number of languages spoken by less than one million people (over 2.500).
The number of speakers of a particular language is frequently a matter of national or cultural prestige to the degree that one questions the objectivity of comparative statistics (For example French language sources cite 100 m, compared to the 85m given in the table where the English figure is probably inflated.). One reason for discrepancy is putting "second language " speakers together with " first language " speakers. It is difficult to locate information on the conceptual restrictions imposed by a particular language, since most studies are word-oriented. Since each language provides a conceptual framework, an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different frameworks could be extremely enriching for international discourse.
The exercise of collecting data on languages suggested that it might be equally useful to present information on the variety of terminological systems currently in use. The argument here is that each discipline, which is the subject of education, has its own special vocabulary and conceptual framework. Communication between disciplines is a matter of considerable difficulty. There is no profession of interdisciplinary translators as there is for languages - nor is there any interdisciplinary "Esperanto". It seemed useful therefore to see whether any answer could be given to such questions as " how many people speak sociology ? " However, as with languages, there are those who speak the jargon fluently, others who make use of some of it, and finally there are those who can understand it but do not speak it. Clearly this type of information is very hard to obtain. However, by making a number of assumptions, it is possible to obtain an indication of how many speakers of each jargon there might be. While the assumptions may be weak, no other course is currently open to us. Readers must judge for themselves from the table (see page 224-225); whether the information presented raises useful questions. As with the languages, there is a problem of distinguishing between terminological "languages " and " dialects ". Many of the languages/dialects, used by highly specialized groups could not of course be detected by the method used here. One can speculate that there may be as many as several thousand.
Since a listing of this type has apparently not been attempted before, some procedural notes are in order. Some readers may prefer to continue at the next heading and omit the following paragraphs,
There are clearly many defects and weaknesses in the above approach but, at least in the case of primary users, it does provide a systematic presentation of data which could be corrected by international professional bodies. The primary users are essentially the "professionals " in each jargon area whereas the secondary users are the " technicians " or "appliers ". The special weakness of the data presented on the secondary and tertiary levels is that it does not allow for people who have acquired the ability to use the jargon, either through practical work experience (e.g. a lawyer's clerk) or through private reading on the mass media.
In addition, an attempt should be made to correct the two lower levels by data on employees in occupations using a particular jargon. The ILO data in the Yearbook of Labour Statistics is however unfortunately presented by industrial sector and not by discipline and does not distinguish between the different grades of employee (professional, technician, operative) (Of particular interest is the U.S. Department of Labour coding system for the etassification of all occupations. This distinguishes occupations by 7 possible relationships to data, 9 to people, and 9 to things. ). However there may be some validity in the assumption that only people who have been exposed to a jargon in formal education acquire more than a limited understanding of it, which would maintain the validity of the data on the second level of users. Another weakness, which is difficult to correct, is that educational courses tend to spread to cover a variety of disciplines, although Unesco data would only cover the major discipline for which the student registered. Thus particularly within a major grouping like the " social sciences ",students of any of the sub-groupings would acquire a " limited understanding " ifnot the ability to make a " partial use ", of the terminologies of other sub-groupings
The data on developing countries (Africa, Latin-America, Asia, excluding Israel, Turkey and Japan) is of course especially subject to the reserves concerning the equivalence of diplomas. The graduates from India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil and South Africa considerably inflate the developing country figures.
In this last section we touch upon areas which are much less understood. They concern the pre-logical biases or dispositions which govern an individual's (or a culture's) preference for particular types of information or concepts. A striking concrete example of one aspect of this is the American preference for grid organization of roads, with systematic numbering along each road, compared to the Japanese area/time concept whereby buildings are numbered in date order of their construction in a given area. More obviously, there is the difference between those who wish to read about a topic before deciding whether to listen to a verbal presentation, and those who wish to listen to the presentation before deciding whether to read the documentation. There seemes to be very little information on these individual and cultural preferences. We do not know what range of preferences is involved, so it is not even possible to present indicative data.
As an indication of this range, however, two dimensions are considered below. The first covers a variety of forms of information presentation; the second covers a set of pre-logical biases. It may be that the intersections of these two sets cover a major portion of the range of orientations of interest to international discourse. A tentative list of the variety of forms of information organization and presentation would include the following (in no particular order) :
A. Mime, gesture, ritual, drama, ceremonial dance. B. Speech: monologue, dialogue, discussion, poetry, song. C. Sound: signals, music. D. Symbols, monuments. E. Writing: characters, cursive script, ideogrammatic characters. F. Images (in two dimensions): artistic, religious, publicity, photographs. G. Images (dynamic in two dimensions): display panels, psychedelic lighting, film/TV. H. Logically, interconnected symbols: equations, notations. I. Graphs (static and in two dimensions), charts. J. Graphs (dynamic in two dimensions): oscilloscope displays, instrument plots. K. Graphs (static in three dimensions). K. Graphs (dynamic in simulated three dimensions): computer graphics displays. M. Maps, plans, flow-charts, circuit diagrams. N. Structures (static 'in three dimensions): sculpture, models, maquettes. O. Structures (dynamic in three dimensions): mobiles, working models. P. Computer outputs (non-interactive) line print-out or display. Q. Computer output (interactive): line printout or display. R. Computer graphics (dynamic in simulated three dimensions) in colour. S. Simulators. (An earlier version of this list, together with the detailed advantages and disadvantages of each mode, was first presented by the author in Working Paper N° 3 of the IPSA Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis entitled: Relationships between elements of knowledge. Hawaii/Brussels, 1971.)
The felt need for information on a particular topic, the preference for any of the above forms of information presentation, and (in the case of those selected) the preference for the nature and organization of the information presented, may each depend upon the individual's (or culture's) position respect to each of the following prelogical axes of bias elaborated by W.T. Jones (The Romantic Syndrome; toward a new method in cultural anthropology and history of ideas. The Hague Martinus Nijhoff. 1961) :
A. Order/Disorder axis, which consists of the range of attitudes lying between a strong preference for fluidity, muddle and chaos and a strong preference for system, clarity, and conceptual analysis.
Jones makes the point that the influence of such biases structure the conception of explanation that predominates in a society; that is, they define, not the particular explanations, but the kinds of explanations that are felt to be satisfactory. " As such, they characterize not merely the physical theory that a society develops but also much of the legal, political, and social behaviour of that society " (p. 13).
The above sections have attempted to survey some of the " conceptual cages " in which different sectors of human society are emprisoned, mostly without choice and often with much self-satisfaction. These cages constitute barriers to international, interdisciplinary and intercultural discourse. The question is whether the solution to the problem (if it is really a problem) is to get as many people as possible to subscribe to a particular approach, namely to get them all into one cage, or whether there is not some other means of benefitting from the perspectives through the windows of all the cages.
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