The Power of Language
I. What is language & how does it work?
A culturally-arranged symbol system with personal and communal meanings used to negotiate life.
II. Words have the redemptive potential to reveal reality. And create new realities.
A. Words refer to (thus reveal) our physical world.
Thought or reference
Symbols Referents (things
Mt.Shuksan’s dark peaks and glacier crevasses loom cold under a November sky.
Mt. Shuksan’s toothy crags shimmer brilliantly in late-September’s afternoon sun.
B. Words help create our social world.
1. speech acts: actions you do with words, e.g.
compliments, greetings, vows (“I promise to love you forever.”)
2. How we name things. E.g. people
3. Gender relationships. E.g. surnames
4. Power relationships. E.g. Hedges, hestitations…
C. Words influence our mental world.
1. Denotative meaning: the dictionary (widely accepted cultural) meaning of a word
e.g. jargon (specialized words within a small group– like fly fishers!)
2. Connotative meaning: our emotional associations with a word.
e.g. Cookie & Milk
3. Idiosyncratic meanings: unique meanings between very few people,
a. “you know what they say…
IV. But language has the negative potential to obscure truth and blind us to certain realities.
A. Abstract language: vague words that refer mainly to other words (can be good or bad)
B. Euphemism: words that sugar-coat harsh realities (this can be good, or bad) such as…
C. Equivocal language: words that easily have two or more meanings
e.g. “family values”, “early,” “better”
D. Dichotomies: words or language that place people into too strict a semantic box.
e.g. Which is truer?
“John is lazy.” ( John = Lazy) or
“John missed class twice in September because he slept in.”
V. Recognize God’s confidence in words, and our identity in Him as word-users. Five suggestions for our redemptive (good) use of language:
A. Use intelligible words—words that are easily understood.
B. Use cultural words, words that connect to local culture.
Use storied words—memorable, colourful, moral. “There once was a man…”
Use edifying speech acts, or words that build others up.
Do you hear yourself saying
“That stinks!” or “That’s not my preference”
“You idiot!” or “Was that wise?”
“Get lost!” or “I need personal time right now.”
John Gottman’s marriage study. 5 to 1 ratio of good to bad comments
E. Use words befitting one who is worthy.
Jer. 15: 19 “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15: 19). Ask yourself, who are the leaders on campus, and how do they use language?
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