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Language and reality

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  1. Introduction
  2. The hierarchical authority governing the speech
  3. The humble style of the old Latin bible
  4. The democratic element to language
  5. Wickham: A social inferior
  6. Risk discussed in Don Quixote
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

It is common cynical knowledge that in this world of spin, our perceptions of reality cannot possibly be divorced from the language it is presented in. But the question remains as to whether language creates or distorts reality. At the crux of the issue is really our definition of ?reality.? Is it merely a societal construct, a product of what the majority agrees upon or is forced to accept? If so, it may well be dependent upon the language of those with power, wit or persuasion. But if reality is more of a monolithic force, an absolute truth that transcends time and culture, then it is perhaps more likely to survive the abuses of language.

It can be, however, almost unequivocally asserted that during a feudalistic era of serfs, lords and kings, ?reality? was very much determined by the language of powerful entities. In Hamlet, Claudius dribbles tired platitudes as truths but gets away with it. Arguing rather clinically that the loss of a father is a universal phenomenon and an inevitable stage in life, (?your father lost a father,/that father lost his?) Claudius chastises Hamlet's sullen disposition and mourning for the late king as ?impious stubbornness? and ?unmanly grief.?(1.2 ln95) In subsuming the particularity of what a father's death might feel like to an individual under general rhetoric, Claudius is attempting to abdicate responsibility for his crime. For to deny the specificity of an act is to also downplay its significance.

[...] In front of a court audience, Laertes is forced to ?receive [Hamlet's] offered love like love/and not wrong ( 5.2 ln 249) If there is already something distasteful about the way those with social power can carelessly wield language and impose their reality on others, then Don Fernando from Don Quixote would shock with his capacity to present the very opposite of the fact, as truth. Wanting (rather whimsically) to posit the packsaddle as a glorious horse harness, and by extension, the barber's basin inversely as Membrino's helmet, he conducts a poll amongst the inn audience who invariably vote to affirm his beliefs. [...]

[...] The relationship between language and reality ultimately depends on how malleable we believe reality to be. If we arm ourselves with the post- modernist cynicism of whether an objective reality even exists, then language can be seen as one of the many factors that creates the varying, subjective reality. But it is quite heartening that even a text like Don Quixote that is so bent on exposing the subjectivity of reality, concedes that there is, or at least a need to believe that there is, still some objective truth that cannot be kidnapped by the wiles of language. [...]

[...] University of Chicago Press Montaigne, Michel De. Cannibals.? Essays. Penguin Books: 1993 Saint Augustine. Confessions. Oxford University Press: 1998 Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Bantam Dell, Random House Inc, Feb 2005 Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that whether language distorts reality depends as much on the listener as on the speaker. Montaigne was not wrong to cast the reader as equally complicit when he spoke about the mind taking external ideas and cutting them to [...]

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