The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Wittgenstein
I have just returned from the European Conference on Education Research (ECER), which this year was in Helsinki. The conference language was English which made me ponder on Wittgenstein’s language games as whilst the quality of English presentations was generally excellent, the extent of the understanding becomes increasingly complex given the diverse cultural and historical meanings attached with any words.
For example one colleague from Russia whilst discussing Vygotsky clearly had a complex set of different associations and meanings with that one name than I could possibly comprehend. Not that I am ignorant of Vygotsky, but I have never lived in Russia and never read Vygotsky’s original publications in Russian. I simply cannot comprehend the cultural and historical significance of the name and I cannot associate the name with a whole host of other Russian literature and scholars. This was just one word of the thousands words spoken in the presentation – such are the variables with language that it is astonishing that it is possible for two people to have a meaningful, productive and accurate conversation or to mediate a degree of understanding.
This very much ties in with my ‘illusions of knowing’ thinking and also ties in with my previous post related to physical differences in seeing. As whilst we see objects differently and talk about them differently – the physical differences are compounded by cultural, symbolic, historical and linguistic differences.
For example I am told that the German for bridge is die Brücke, which is a feminine noun, whilst el puente (Spanish for Bridge) is masculine noun. Whilst such gendered associations may not have physical embodiment they can innately have a gendered and cultural association. If we also said the blue bridge then this may also mean something different in different cultural settings as radical variations in the way different languages describe the spectrum of visible light. For example, whilst the English language distinguishes between green and blue – some languages do not and the colours are considered shades of the same colour in different languages.
And added to this is the concept of ‘context’ which becomes equally important as bridge to a dentist, architect and games player again represents a whole range of cultural, historical associations. Whilst the ambiguities of language and meaning illustrate how adaptable our cognitive abilities are, it also illustrates the high level of ambiguity that we are able to tolerate and that a preciseness in language and communication cannot be achieved.
I presume I am referring to a form of ‘epistemological solipsism’ but at the same time questioning the position of education/ schooling which can be considered in one part as the trading in the use of language and inculturation into shared cultural and historical meanings? Successful navigation of schooling therefore means decoding and reproducing cultural and historical assumptions and ambiguities both in language and performativity. This is interesting (for me) as being ambiguous and existing in states of uncertainty is central to creative behaviours. Challenging meaning and reconceiving perceived realities requires an emotional capacity to engage in riskiness and challenges cultural and historical assumptions in the form of redefined models of performativity which in turn adds to the ambiguities and shifting of language.
So what is my point?
Performativity fails to accomodate ambiguities and offers a false premise of certainty – in doing so it seeks to constrain the acknowledgement of ambiguity and uncertainty through failing to recognise alternative psychological, cultural and historical influences as valid and as a consequence fails to acknowledge the rich cultural and historical diversity that exists -I think?