Development idea of the day: Vocabulary enhancement

Jean Rogers waxes Wittgensteinian:

Arabic, for example, can convey business, merchant, etc., in a word, but

it takes a lengthy explanation to capture ‘entrepreneur’. After

the recent success in working with Ministries and linguistic experts to invent

an Arabic word for “corporate governance”, which also did not

exist until the recently approved “hawkamat ash-sharikat”, CIPE

and its Egyptian partners are now raising the issue of creating Arabic terminology

that captures the breadth of meaning in entrepreneurship. This is really a

process of concept formation. It can be lengthy and seem esoteric, but it

is essential to moving forward on these issues — if there is no common

word or language for a topic, then the concept itself does not adequately

exist in society.

As something of a Wittgensteinian myself, I’m attracted by the implied argument

here: all of our thoughts can be expressed in a public language, and if an important

word does not exist in a given society’s language, then the idea associated

with that word can’t really take off an that society. If there is no word for

entrepeneurship in Arabic, then in some important sense there is no

entrepeneurship in Arabic-speaking societies. Wow, that sounds racist, doesn’t

it? I think I need to talk to a Proper Philosopher before I take this any further.

Any suggestions of Philosophy of Language types who might be able to help?

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4 Responses to Development idea of the day: Vocabulary enhancement

  1. me says:

    the guys at “Language Log” have discussed this a lot. See , for example

  2. tbelcher says:

    I’m always reminded of when I read these types of stories. They’re probably at the same level of analysis.

  3. Alan says:

    Much that I admire Witty’s great intellect and instincts of charity, his ideas, I’m afraid, don’t get a lot of respect among cognitive neuroscientsts and philosophers these days. Witty is an admirable dead end philosophically (but a heck of an architect in his spare time).

    The excerpt quoted sounds vaguely like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic determinism. In this, thoughts are seen to be determined by the categories made available by their language. A weaker variant is linguistic relativity, holding that differences among languages cause differences in the thoughts of their speakers.

    The fundamental flaw here is the idea that thought is the same as language. A conventional absurdity. An entrepreneur is one who literally takes between, from French. There are plenty of entrepreneurs all over the world ignorant both of English and French. Witty was simply wrong. See Steve Pinker on the Language Instinct. Cheers.

  4. len says:

    Hmmm? I don’t understand what you’re saying. Just because a word doesn’t exist in a particular language/culture doesn’t mean that the people don’t understand the concept. A private citizen running a falafel stand or selling fruit on the corner or whatever is in fact an entrepreneur whether the word exists in the culture or not. And surely they must have some equivalent word to defiine private non government owned business.

    No, your theory doesn’t sound racist, just inaccurate.

    And I don’t believe “all” thought can be expressed in public language. Some thought is beyond language, or perhaps I’m confusing emotion with thought.

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