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Real-world issues about language

Real-world issues about language

These real-world issues about language will help you to explore knowledge questions, analyse the latest events and issues related to this optional theme, and apply TOK terms, ideas, and concepts to authentic situations.

You can also use these issues as discussion points within lessons, examples to support your essay arguments, and case studies to show how TOK manifests in world around us in your exhibition commentary.

Real-world issues on the nature and scope of language

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 1, our first BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to the nature and scope of language, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

Here are the word of the year choices of OUP, Merriam Webster, Collins, and dictionary.com.

A New Humanist article, looking how we often base our perception of truth on facial expressions, even in court.

A Guardian article looking at the challenges of keeping alive a language that is used routinely by only a relatively few people.

An Aeon essay that thinks about what comes first – the idea, or the terminology that describes the idea.

An Atlantic article, investigating ‘contact languages’, and how they are dying out at a very quick rate.

A Conversation article that explores what the legal basis of emojis are – and whether they can be used as evidence in court.

Real-world issues on the relationship between language and values

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 2, our second BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to language and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Conversation article, looking at the use (and resistance to the use) of the gender neutral French pronoun ‘iel’.

A Wired article, assessing the difficulties of making gender-neutral emojis.

A Conversation article exploring the ways in which (human) drivers communicate using an intuitive and informal common language of the road, and the extent to which this will be accessible to cars driven by machines, rather than people.

A Big Think article, looking at how positive labels can end up having a negative effect on our perceptions about the world.

A New Humanist article, looking at the etymology of the phrase ‘take the knee’.

A CNN article, assessing the extent to which language used by the media perpetuates sexism in Olympic sports. 

Real-world issues on the role of language in communicating knowledge

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 3, our third BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of language, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Sky News article, looking at the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, and how the words ‘victim’ and ‘minor’ have been permitted to be used by the prosecution.  

A Discovery article, which explores the reason why words seem to lose their meaning when we repeat them over and over again.

A Discover Magazine article about how certain words and names shape our understanding and outlooks.

An Atlantic article, arguing that the word ‘problematic’ is misused by people.

A Conversation article, looking at how punctuation has been adapted as a central tool of Black activism.

A World Economic Forum article, looking at the unstoppable expansion of emojis, and what this tells us about the way we communicate.

Real-world issues on the role of language in shaping our perspectives

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 4, our fourth BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context related to language, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A BBC article, discussing the significance of 26 Korean words being added to the Oxford English dictionary.  

An Insider article, considering the news that Amanda Gorman’s Catalan translator has been dropped by his publisher for having the wrong profile.

An Aeon article, looking at how different ethnic groups of people caught up in Hurricane Katrina were portrayed differently in the press.

An AP article looking at how different interpretations of words can lead to different meanings – and how our political affiliations drive this.

A Big Think article that explores how the precise meaning of words varies from culture to culture.

A Vox article that considers whether learning culturally-specific terms makes us happier knowers.

Real-world issues on the relationship between new ideas and language

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 5, our fifth BQ units for TOK
  • They also link to linguistic methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

This BBC article thinks about how words change over time, and how certain terms help to reflect the reality of contemporary society.

A Conversation and a Guardian article, looking at how mistakes are essential to the healthy development of language.

This 4 minute BBC animated video looks at how mistakes made by people when they use idioms often ends up producing new ways of communicating ideas.

A WNYC Studios podcast, exploring how language evolves over time, and the way dictionaries cope with this. 

A Slate article examining how indigenous groups are drawing on online platforms to ensure the existence of their languages during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Writing for The Atlantic, the wonderful John McWhorter reminds us (if we needed it) that language is a “constantly shifting terrain”.

Real-world issues on becoming a discerning knower about language

  • These issues on knowledge & language relate to Big Question 6, our final BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to linguistic methods, tools, and practices, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Use the Exploration Points document below to unpack the media sources and link them to the TOK course (available to members of the site)
  • Members can also use our Investigating Issues resource to look at related stories, and widen their understanding of how TOK manifests in the world around us

A Metro article, looking at how a working class sports journalist was criticised for her language-use, and the scathing response of one influential writer to this.

A Guardian article, which considers whether you need to speak a country’s language in order to fully understand its politics, culture, and history.

A Conversation article, looking at the use of the word ‘like’, and arguing that it isn’t a lazy feature of language-use.

This Aeon essay asks a very simple, but important question – ‘who decides what words mean?’, and considers two different ways of viewing the role of dictionaries?

Link these issues 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 related events and issues

Investigating Issues offers you a completely new way to plan and teach TOK. The resource gathers together over 120 major global issues, provides a collection of media sources to explore each one, and suggests ways to link them to the different elements of the TOK course and to the 12 key concepts.

Unpack these issues & link them to TOK

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!

Subscribe to the TOK newsletter

Our TOK newsletter helps you explore the most important events and issues going on today, and fully grasp how TOK concepts manifest in the real world. Read a recent edition here, subscribe to the free version here, and gain access to the premium version by joining theoryofknowledge.net.