Biology, Sociology and Language

Osiatynski: As I understand, language has an innate biological basis. Its use, however, is social. What do you think of the social functions of language? Is it primarily an instrument of communication?

Chomsky: I think a very important aspect of language has to do with the establishment of social relations and interactions. Often, this is described as communication. But that is very misleading, I think. There is a narrow class of uses of language where you intend to communicate. Communication refers to an effort to get people to understand what one means. And that, certainly, is one use of language and a social use of it. But I don’t think it is the only social use of language. Nor are social uses the only uses of language. For example, language can be used to express or clarify one’s thoughts with little regard for the social context, if any.

I think the use of language is a very important means by which this species, because of its biological nature, creates a kind of social space, to place itself in interactions with other people. It doesn’t have much to do with communication in a narrow sense; that is, it doesn’t involve transmission of information. There is much information transmitted but it is not the content of what is said that is transmitted. There is undoubtedly much to learn about the social uses of language, for communication or for other purposes. But at present there is not much in the way of a theory of sociolinguistics, of social uses of languages, as far as I am aware.

– Wiktor Osiatynski (ed.), Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (MacMillan, 1984), pp. 95-101

Figure of Thought‏

Sometimes people confuse figure of thought with figure of speech. These two devices are closely related in purpose but are not identical. The primary difference is that a figure of speech often uses specific words and word orders that become commonplace or even cliché due to overuse.

“In its broad sense, metaphor is not only a figure of speech but also a figure of thought. It is a mode of apprehension and a means of perceiving and expressing something in a radically different way. In such a sense, figurative images are not simply decorative but serve to reveal aspects of experience in a new light.”
– Ning Yu, “Imagery.” Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, ed. by Theresa Enos. Taylor & Francis (1996)

The purpose of a figure of thought is twofold. First, it improves the larger aesthetic impression of the communication, making it seem more elite, mastered or beautiful. Secondly, a figure of thought allows an individual to get across more abstract concepts that truly might not be definable with concrete terms. In some cases, using a figure of thought ends up being more concise than if a person tried to describe everything behind the idea.

Apophasis and Praeteritio

An apophasis is a rhetorical device where the speaker asserts or emphasizes a topic by pointedly seeming to pass over, or ignore the point; whereas in reality, the speaker nevertheless hints at the point he wants to make.

The Latin counterpart is known as a praeteritio (also known as occupatio) which is a rhetorical device where the speaker emphasizes a topic by mentioning the fact that the topic is not going to be mentioned – mentioning by not mentioning.

In most cases these rhetorical devices are one and the same, except in clear-cut cases where the speaker is very forthright. In this case we refer to the remark as a praeteritio:

“If you were not my father, I would say you were perverse.” – Antigone

“I will pass over the fact that Jenkins beats his wife, is an alcoholic, and sells drugs to children, because we will not allow personal matters to enter into our political discussion.”

Whereas the apophasis can be more subtle:

“Of course, I do not need to mention that you should bring a No. 2 pencil to the exam.”

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Philophilia Amoris

Philophilia Amoris: A particular preference or love for an equal friendship mainly stimulated by intellectual, humorous and openly free exchanges enthused by non-committal soft physical contact. The individuals in question allow each other to enter the proxemic intimate so-called close phase. A harmless condition set on fire – its post-reaction residue.”

– Willem Etsenmaker

Based on the concept of philia as coined by Aristotle in his Rhetoric part: (1380b36–1381a2) ‘[…] wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.’