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Quotes on language

Quotes on language

These quotes will kick-start your exploration of knowledge and language, and help you reflect on your own understanding of this optional theme of TOK.

Which quotes do you find the most and least insightful? Do the quotes challenge or support your understanding of language? What do the quotes reveal about how language interlinks with the areas of knowledge, the core theme, and the other optional themes?

Quotes on the nature and scope of language

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 1 (What is language, and how essential is an understanding of it?), the first of our BQ units
  • They also link to the nature and scope of language, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

One can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man.
John Berger

There is nothing in philosophy which could not be said in everyday language.
Henri Bergson

Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought.
Elizabeth Bowen

Language is a mixture of statement and evocation.
Elizabeth Bowen

We inhabit a language rather than a country.
Emil M. Cioran

The psychology of a language which, in one way or another, is imposed upon one because of factors beyond one’s control, is very different from the psychology of a language which one accepts of one’s free will.
Edward Sapir

Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world.
Noam Chomsky

Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.
Claude Levi-Strauss

History does not merely touch on language, but takes place in it.
Theodor Adorno

Quotes on the relationship between language and values

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 2 (How does our knowledge about the world inform our values?), the second of our BQ units
  • They also link to language and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

Language fits over experience like a straight-jacket.
William Golding

Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classification, and that all classifications are oppressive.
Roland Barthes

Male supremacy is fused into the language, so that every sentence both heralds and affirms it.
Andrea Dworkin

Morality, like language, is an invented structure for conserving and communicating order. And morality is learned, like language, by mimicking and remembering.
Jane Rule

Language, identity and forms of life are the terms in which political demands are shaped and voiced.
Terry Eagleton

Language is a window into human nature, but it is also a fistula, an open wound through which we’re exposed to an infectious world.
Steven Pinker

Quotes on the role of language in communicating knowledge

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 3 (How is our understanding influenced by the way knowledge is communicated?), the third of our BQ units
  • They also link to linguistic methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

Language is the dress of thought.
Samuel Johnson

Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking.
Peter Guber

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
George Orwell

Language is the mother of thought, not its handmaiden.
Karl Kraus

Language makes infinite use of finite media.
Wilhelm von Humboldt

Speech is human nature itself, with none of the artificiality of written language.
Alfred North Whitehead

Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it.
Benjamin Whorf

The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

You learned the concept ‘pain’ when you learned language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

As a scholar I am interested in the philosophy of language, semiotics, call it what you want, and one of the main features of the human language is the possibility of lying.
Umberto Eco

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.
Niels Bohr

The problems of language here are really serious. We wish to speak in some way about the structure of the atoms. But we cannot speak about atoms in ordinary language.
Werner Heisenberg

Quotes on the role of language in shaping our perspectives

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 4 (How do our perspectives and biases shape our knowledge?), the fourth of our BQ units
  • They also link to perspectives & context related to language, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
Charlemagne

Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is much closer to film than painting is.
Sergei Eisenstein

Music is the only language in which you cannot say a mean or sarcastic thing.
John Erskine

Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.
Martha Graham

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
Herbie Hancock

Great art speaks a language which every intelligent person can understand. The people who call themselves modernists today speak a different language.
Marshall McLuhan

Obviously no language is innate. Take any kid from any race, bring them up in any culture and they will learn the language equally quickly. So no particular language is in the genes. But what might be in the genes is the ability to acquire language.
Steven Pinker

In general, every country has the language it deserves.
Jorge Luis Borges

Quotes on the relationship between new ideas and language

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 5 (How is new knowledge about the world created?), the fifth of our BQ units
  • They also link to linguistic methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.
Noam Chomsky

If you want to talk about something new, you have to make up a new kind of language.
Haruki Murakami

Language also encodes our past. We want to know who we are. To know who we are, we have to know who we used to be. Consequently, our literature, written in the past, anchors us in that past.
Andrzej Wajda

With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.
Ernst Haas

The Semantic Web isn’t inherently complex. The Semantic Web language, at its heart, is very, very simple. It’s just about the relationships between things.
Tim Berners-Lee

Ever since the arrival of printing – thought to be the invention of the devil because it would put false opinions into people’s minds – people have been arguing that new technology would have disastrous consequences for language.
David Crystal

We’re losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point. Too much exclusive use of electronic information dehumanises what is a very, very important part of community life and living together.
Vincent Nichols

Quotes on becoming a discerning knower about language

  • These quotes on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 6 (How do we become discerning knowers?), the final BQ unit
  • They also link to linguistic methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework for exploring TOK
  • Use the link to each thinker as a starting point to find out more about their ideas

People do not come to the dictionary for excitement and romance; that’s what encyclopedias are for.
Kory Stamper

ALL words are made-up: Do you think we find them fully formed on the ocean floor, or mine from them in some remote part of Wales?
Kory Stamper

Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
Martin Heidegger

People are under the impression that dictionaries legislate language. What a dictionary does is keep track of usages over time.
Steven Pinker

Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Why should a novelist not also be a historian? To force unnatural divisions within the English language is to work against its capacious and accommodating nature. To expect a writer to produce only novels, or only histories, is equivalent to demanding from a composer that he or she write only string quartets or piano sonatas.
Peter Ackroyd

What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.
Jane Goodall

Math is the language of the universe.
Lucas Grabeel

Link these quotes to the exhibition

Our TOK exhibition prompt decoder helps you to understand each of the 35 IA prompts, link them to the core and optional themes, and the 12 key TOK concepts, and explore them via quotes, questions, TED talks, and media sources. Access the decoder here.

Explore the quotes in more depth

Our sixty-six Exploration Point documents (updated every month) help you delve deeper into TOK via media sources, unpacking ideas, guidance on the key concepts, and other tips. HERE is an example of a EP document (for history & perspectives) – join us to gain access to the other sixty-five!

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