In my last post I talked a little about how an understanding of English grammar can take you a long way to being a better communicator and a better learner.
Not long after I posted it I was re-reading Marshal McLuhan's 'Understanding Media' and came across his thoughts on the influence of one of our language's most fundamental characteristics - the phonetic alphabet. I thought I'd throw some of these in here as they are certainly thought provoking even if you may feel they take the case for the power of the alphabet too far!
Our alphabet, according to McLuhan, where 'semantically meaningless letters are used to correspond to semantically meaningless sounds' (unlike, for example, Chinese ideograms) is the 'secret of Western power over man and nature alike'. McLuhan's argument is that the phonetic alphabet breaks up into a linear and progressive mode experience that is, of its nature, not at all linear or progressive and that this is why:
' Western industrial programs have quite involuntarily been so militant, and our military programs been so industrial. Both are shaped by the alphabet in their technique of transformation and control by making all situations uniform and continuous.'
His argument is that language is at the very heart of how and why we do things the way we do. It is constantly shaping and dictating our actions and perceptions.
Since I found out that some cultures have no way of expressing the past or future in their language (can you imagine English with no way of talking about the past or the future?) the power of language to actually 'build' the way we see the world has fascinated me - so don't be surprised if it pops up again in later posts!