Category Archives: Week 3

Why can we call Readymades “Art”?

If I mentioned the word “art” to a person who lived two hundreds years ago, it was likely for her to imagine some creative images or objects. Although the word “art” has a diverse range of meanings, it was almost impossible for her to picture a urinal in her mind. However, Duchamp taught us that the word “art” can be referred to urinal. The lesson he gave us has significant difference from what other artists gave us. Most artists expanded the meaning of arts by creating new visions or sounds that have not existed before. But Duchamp made no such arduous efforts. He just brought us some readymades. For me, he made no new things, even no new concepts. What he did was pointing out that how far the word “art” can lead us to. People agreed with the idea that urinal can be art because they had already shared the similar concepts. It seems that we have some socially priori concept of art. Duchamp just pointed out this concept as a teacher use stones to teach students count number. One support for this argument can be the fact that there must be many artists who signed on ordinary things before, but none of those things were taken seriously as art. One reason might be at old times, our language was not so inclusive with such “high concept”.  Duchamp made us aware of the new meanings that we have already added to the word “art”– Art can be defined by a collective sense that it belongs to a word we have come to know as “art”.

Fountain was selected in 2004 as "the most influential artwork of the 20th century" by 500 renowned artists and historians.

Fountain was selected in 2004 as “the most influential artwork of the 20th century” by 500 renowned artists and historians.

Why a person with knowledge of modern art can “understand” Duchamp’s fountain, and audiences without same cultivation feel shocked, giving the same vision of an ordinary urinal? It seems like that modern society equip us with some “underlying knowledge” of the word “art”. Further, why some audiences can accept Duchamp’s fountain when they saw it at the first time, even though they didn’t see similar artwork before. Did Duchamp indicate a “general grammar” in the art circle, which have existed for a while but was implicit before? I think Duchamp also showed one principle of language that it is “the arbitrariness” of the signs. He paired what he ran into with the meaning of the word “art” (Pinker 83). Duchamp was like a critic of modern language and made a special notation to the word “art” in modern context. Some layers of different syntactical structure lie behind the phrase “Duchamp’s urinal”. Many other phrases have ambiguous meanings and the meanings change with time dramatically. Similar complicated phenomenon might exist with the words ”Rock”, “Technology” and “language” itself. How did human add new meaning to these words? Do they follow certain rules? If we can find grammatical rules that generate infinite set of sentences (Searle 3), will the grammatical rules catch up with the change of language? I believe the question can be related to one basic question of language: how do we acquire the system? (Radford 1) This question maybe can go further beyond the scale of psycholinguistic. The study of cognitive development of human maybe can have sociolinguistics approach.

According to Andrew Radford, sociolinguistics is the study of the relationship between language use and the structure of society. (Radford 14) Can we also view the relationship from another side? How about considering the structure of language and the society? Maybe we can not only take into account such factors as the social backgrounds of both the speaker and the addresses, but the ‘’language background’’ and the society. When I was an exchange student in Korea, my professor mentioned why Koreans and Japanese frequently nod their heads when listerning to others while Chinese don’t nod heads often. She said it might be accounted for the order of sentence pattern. Japanese and Korean language share almost same grammars. To get Japanese, the bit of information would say the order is “head-last” (Pinker 111). But Chinese is similar to English, a “head-first” language.  She thought that Japanese and Koreans need to nod head to tell speaker that they are following and waiting for the “head” (I failed to find highly related literate). If this idea makes sense, can we say that syntactical structure even have an impact on social phenomenon and culture. Similar idea is held by William C. Hannas, a linguist who speaks 12 languages and works as a senior officer at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, a federal agency in Washington. In a polemical new book, ”The Writing on the Wall: How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity” (University of Pennsylvania Press), Mr. Hannas blames the writing systems of China, Japan and Korea for what he says is East Asia’s failure to make significant scientific and technological breakthroughs compared to Western nations (Eakin).

I don’t know whether these ideas are plausible or not. But considering the legal system and many other social mechanisms, which are set up with language. We cannot say syntactical structure have no impact in broader scale. Maybe it is even a mistake to view society as the background of language, especially considering human’s natural capacity of language.


Eakin, Emily. “Writing As a Block For Asians”. The New York Times. Web.29 January 29, 2014.

Pinker, Steven. “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.

Radford, Atkinson, Britain, Clahsen and Spencer. Linguistics: an introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Searle, John. “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.

McClave, Evelyn Z. “Linguistic functions of head movements in the context of speech.” Journal of Pragmatics 32.7 (2000): 855-878.

The Written Word and the Visual Image

 Estefanía Tocado

According to Noam Chomsky, the linguistic “performance” that articulates linguistic competence involves many factors, not only linguistic, but also other extralinguistic related to the beliefs concerning the speaker and the situation when the speech has been uttered (102).  Other extralinguistic factors, such as social and cultural background (studied in the field of sociolinguistics), can play an important role in the semantic and pragmatic aspects of the communicative act.  It is also relevant to point out that language is also used as an organized symbolic form of a cultural genre, and because of its properties as a semiotic code its combinatoriality is multiple and complex, especially when dealing with more than one genre (Irvine 11).  In the 20th century since the appearance of the photographic image and the creation of film, film studies theorist and scholars have long debated the intrinsic relationship between the written word and the visual image.  Due to the fact that Western society is deeply indebted to the concept of logocentrism, for many years the literary field has always been regarded as superior (high culture) and the visual world as dependent on it.  However, things have shifted dramatically in the last few decades.  The visual image and its endless combinations, as portrayed in production of a film, stand as the representation that the image is an independent sign that participates from a system (semiotic code) that has multiple layers of construction and meaning generating its own linguistic competence through the visual media.  André Bazin in his essay “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” argued for visual images as being signs, and he tried to categorize the different kind of images according to the means by which they are produced and the relation between the image and the object it wants to represent (Morgan 107).

The relationship between literature and film has been long established.  However, it is interesting to remark how often these two are mutually influenced sharing an intermedial channel especially in the case of the narrative and the film.  An excellent example of this intermediality is very often seen in novels and filmic adaptations.  In the case of Jane Eyre, a well known novel that has been adapted to the visual media several times, it is noteworthy to indicate that every reading has its own understanding of how to tell the story in the visual code.  In accordance to Debora Cartmell who studies theory of filmic adaption, the transposition from one genre to the other is a matter of relocating it in a major context:  “All screen versions of a novel are transpositions in the sense that they take a text from one genre and deliver it to new audiences by means of the aesthetic conventions of an entirely different generic process (here novel into film). But many adaptations of novels and other generic forms contain further layers of transposition, relocating their source not just generically, but in cultural, geographical, and temporal terms” (ctd en Sanders 20-21).  As stated by Chomsky, the extralinguistic factors are extremely important in order to adequately portray the semantics and the pragmatics of the act of communication established between the visual image (the film) and the audience.  Linda Hutcheon in her book Theory of Adaptation affirms that an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative – a work that is second without being secondary.  It is its own palimpsestic thing” (9).  I would like to regard this intrinsic relationship between the literary word and the visual image as a palimpsestic process from both ends, and not only from the filmic, since the view of a specific novel can be heavily influenced by its filmic adaptation in the mind of the audience creating new layers of meaning to its original reading and understanding of the written story.


Works Cited

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. Cambridge UP, 2006.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Irvine, Martin. “Linguistics: Key Concepts.” Media Theory and Cognitive Technologies. Georgetown U, Jan. 2014. Web. 28 January 2014.

Morgan, Daniel. “Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics.” The Film Theory

Reader. Ed. Marc Furstenau. London-New York: Routldge, 2010.

Sanders, Julie. Adaptation and Appropiation. London-New York: Routldge, 2006.

Language in the age of contemporary media

“The purpose of language is communication in much the same sense that the purpose of heart is to pump blood”. (Searle, 10)  Language is after all an individual and social construct we use in our daily lives to convey information and to communicate with one another. Without the formation of language we could not have traditional media like television, radio or cinema. So it is important to know that, like any other construct used in daily life, language needs to follow a set of rules in order to be properly used: phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax and semantics are part of such an elaborate process that we have been able to master through practice and repetition. (Irvine, 4)

Human beings are born with genetically encoded information that allows them to learn their native language with a surprising ease. They gather external information transmitted by the people they see in the daily life and they eventually transform raw “baby talk” into a comprehensible and intricate conversational structure by learning the rules and parameters of the language in school. And that’s how we eventually start writing letters, essays, even stories or more elaborate pieces of information that can be portrayed within traditional media.

Languages around the world share certain similarities because in most of the cases they share an historical or geographical background. However, it is important to know that each of them has their own set of rules and structures. And that’s why people with linguistics aptitudes can become bilingual or even multilingual in some cases.

Like Japanese, Spanish or English; the different communication tools used in media have their own set of rules. That’s why we have to use transform and adapt our ideas to build messages that can have better reach to our audience but make the best use of language. Language is a tool we can exploit greatly for creative purposes “The infinite use of finite media distinguishes the human brain from virtually all the artificial languages we commonly come across”. (Pinker, 87)

That’s why I think the most successful approaches of language use come from advertising. Tag lines are smart, short and yet able to transmit powerful ideas that can be assimilated and remembered throughout the years. This comes as a proof the communicators share an unspoken responsibility to learn and make the most use of language; they should commit to really dig into the study of linguistics.  Should the study of language for communication professionals should be deeper and more serious?

After all,  “the glue that holds the elements together into a speech act is the semantic intentions of the speaker”. (Searle, 17)


We are seeing a revolutionary use of language in current media. The exposure that people come across nowadays make them immune to the messages we are trying to get across, messages are becoming shorter and somehow more powerful with the appearance of things like twitter and the use of hashtags.


This context has made an impact in media. We are able to see that the language used in media has been transformed by the appearance of Social media and electronic devices.  We have access to more information so we have to make it shorter and somehow more attractive to the end-user, people should be attracted to the idea of reading the news from our media outlet than from the competition. These are some of the game changers for traditional media that has affected newspapers, magazines or even newscasts.

Full and developed messages are becoming overrun by the appearance of shorter yet seemingly more powerful ideas. This has affected the media we consume and our lifestyle in an almost symbiotic way. In the world where language is limited by 140 characters we have to be precise and consistent with the ideas we are trying to send across.


Martin Irvine, “Linguistics: Key Concepts” (Comparing structuralist and Chomsky’s linguistic concepts)

John Searle, “Chomsky’s Revolution in Linguistics,” The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.

Steven Pinker, “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.