Author Archives: Weilin Wang

Word-Chain Devices, Foreign Language Learning and Artistic Appreciation

After learning about the word-chain devices (Markov model), I realized that I am actually teaching Chinese under the influence of it unconsciously. A problem that most of my students are confronted with is that they have a really limited accumulation of adjectives and adverbs in Chinese which poses an obstacle during their writing compositions or trying to express their feelings. As they have already gain the sense of the basic syntax rules of Chinese, they know how to combine the words selected from each column into a grammatical Chinese sentence. The problem is that one of the column that is necessary for the combinatorial system is almost empty. In order to help them improving their opinion-expressing ability as soon as possible, what I am doing recently is that I would offer them three sets of antonyms expressing positive and negative attitudes per week. In this way, every time when they want to express their attitude, they can search the “positive expression column” or “negative expression column” in their mind, select the proper one and continue their combinations.

As a native Chinese speaker, associating with my personal experience of learning English and Korean, it seems that the more unskilled I am with a language, the word-chain devices worked more apparently and typically in my mind. When dealing with Korean conversation, I usually retrieve the “grammar formula” in my mind, select the proper words from different lists in my mind lexicon, then assemble them following the formula, or to say, the grammatical rules. While when speaking or writing in Chinese, I do will search in my mind lexicon to find the best vocabulary for my expression but the working process of the word-chain devices, or the more complexed assembling models, works in an unconscious way.

People following the synaptic rules not only can create sentences for daily communication, but can also create grammatically correct but meaningless sentences, which means that “Sentences can make no sense but can still recognized as grammatical.” (Steven Pinker,1994)The language as a medium to conveying information reaches different audiences with different contents. How Mark Twain parodied the romantic description of nature actually reminds me of the art appreciation things in human society. If I submit the poem These Lacustrine Cities of John Ashbery as my work in a writing test of a language course, I could hardly pass the exam. However when the poem is taught in the literature class as one of the most famous works of outstanding postmodernism poetry Ashbery, with the help of professor, everyone in the classroom seems to get what the writer is talking about. The separation between semantics and pragmatics somehow helps me to analyze this phenomenon in the way of artistic appreciation and criticizing. Marcel Duchamp holds an opinion that art will do what art will do. No matter what the object is put on exhibition, people who are standing around it will interpretive the object in an artistic way. To analyze this phenomenon in a analogical way of studying semantics and pragmatics, take the Bicycle Wheel of Marcel Duchamp as example, when such a wheel is seen on the road or in Wikipedia, the majority of us would recognize it simply as a part of a bicycle in a “context-free”way, which is somehow just like the “semantic” meaning of this object, as a normal industrial product. However, when being put in an art gallery with a name card of famous French artist Marcel Duchamp next to it, audiences together move into a context of modern art, the wheel is now regarded as a great absurdism work, an ikon expressing the sarcasm on the over-seperation of high art and mass art. The information saved in the object now is decoding in a typical “pragmatic” way. Shall we put ourselves into a professional artistic context in order to appreciate and criticize the art works or shall we just enjoy them in our personal contexts? From my perspective, when being told that the object is an “artistic work”, we get ourselves involved into the artistic context unconsciously, the wheel is not a wheel and the urinal is now a fountain.

References

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.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Linguistics and Symbolic Systems: Key Concepts”

Personal Notes for Week3

The media technology developing external symbolic devices, to me can be regarded as the “extensions of men”, in a context of specific language system and bases on the present symbolic cognition. The symbolic cognition generated from communication in which both the linguistic system and the artifacts are of necessity. Media technologies are aiming to help people communicate with each other easier and better as well as speed up mental process. The direct outcome of media technology is the various type of medium sharing specific linguistic systems but also gaining different characters that influences the communication.

The way how we study the constitution of the human society of symbols and meanings somehow leads me to understand the media in a more clear way. The idea of Searle about the relationship between language or language-like system and the creation of institutional fact help Colin Renfrew analyzing the integral relationship between concepts, linguistic terms and artefacts. In some cases, both the linguistic elements and the artefacts are constitutive of the concepts. This actually somehow reminds me of the famous saying of McLuhan, which is “The medium is the message”. Though not totally agree with it, it seems somehow being reasonable to understand it in the light of Colin’s analysis model. The message can be assimilated to a concept that the source-encoder of it is trying to convey to the audience. This concept, the message, itself is constituted with a linguistic or language-like system which is closely related to the pure information in the message, like the electric current in the wire. At the same time, the medium determined by the technology of meanings, without which the message is not being able to construct and to be delivered to the audiences, is not only just carrying the information, but also shaping it, which deeply influence how the message is like when it finally reach the receivers. From this standpoint, “The medium is the message”seems to be somehow more reasonable in my mind.

The way how we study the constitution of the human society of symbols and meanings somehow lead me to understand the media in a more clear way. The idea of Searle about the relationship between language or language-like system and the creation of institutional fact help Colin Renfrew analyzing the integral relationship between concepts, linguistic terms and artefacts. In some cases, both the linguistic elements and the artefacts are constitutive of the concepts. This actually somehow reminds me of the famous saying of McLuhan, which is “The medium is the message”. Though not totally agree with it, it seems somehow being reasonable to understand it in the light of Colin’s analysis model. The message can be assimilated to a concept that the source-encoder of it is trying to convey

It seems to me that sometimes we might be able to understand different phenomenon or system in human society in similar way. I’m not saying that the elements put into discussion are same but the way we de-black box them somehow gain commons.

References
1 Donald, M. (2007). Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain. Social Brain
Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition. Amsterdam: Rodophi.
2 Renfrew, C. (1999). Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic
Storage. Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage.
3 Cambridge. UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
McLuhan, M. (1911). Understanding Media : the Extensions of Man

The “Irreplaceability” of Technologies of Meaning

As is mentioned in Professor Irvine’s works, technologies of meaning are different in kind, design, and purpose from other general technologies (Martin Irvine, 2018). As far as I concerned, another character that distinguishes the media and computational technologies from general technologies is the irreplaceability, or to be more rigorous, the relatively low pace of replacement.

I’m not sure if I have come up with a scientific and reasonable idea or not, but basing on my own observation and feelings as well as the historical track of the development of the media technology, what I am trying to talk about is that when a new invention of general technology appears, the old one who is dealing with the same problem may be taken place quickly. For example, if an advanced mechanical tomato harvester with low price and high efficiency is introduced to farmers, the old, heavy, inefficient sickle that need to be used with hands when reaping tomatoes might be given up quickly. However, even questions about “Is print dead?” has been buzzing around the world for such a long time, the paper media still keep alive. Nowadays, more and more people are getting used to the fragmented information and we can reach the news media for latest news easily through portable digital devices like smart phones and laptops. However, printed newspapers “continue to be a successful and highly competitive industry and individuals in America still spend an average of one hour reading their Sunday paper” (Nielsen Scarborough 2016).

So, why?

A conjecture that I would like to put forward is that whether the “irreplaceability” is relevant to the stability of the linguistic and non-linguistic system that human use to communicate with each other. New vocabularies or writing styles appears but the linguistic system keeps. The way audiences coding and decoding information through language, image, voice and sounds maintains as is shown in the graph about Medium, Mediations and Media Technologies (Martin Irvine, 2018).

Besides, enlighten by the famous statements of McLuhan which is “the medium is the message”, I’m also considering about whether it can be an explanation for the question. As the medium itself, except for taking the role of “ a neutral channel or conduit for ‘content’ ” (Martin Irvine, 2018), is also part of the contents influencing what actually will be delivered to the audience. Different medium is shaping the information with different effects, so, it might be hard for one medium to take place of another.

As most of the contents that we will talk about this semester seem to be quite new to me, I think I still need to build up a better understanding on different concepts and terms in order to join in the topic and clearly point out my own opinion.

References

Irvine, M. (2018). Media Theory and Technologies of Mediation: An Introduction.

Nielsen Company. (2016). Case Study: Newspaper in a Competitive Market. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2013/case-study-newspaper-in-a-competitive-market.html

McLuhan, M. (1911). Understanding Media : the Extensions of Man