Sunday, 30 August 2015

'Plain language' = 'no language'

I'm currently working on some demonstration pieces for a language-based approach to learning scientific terminology that I've been patching together (over the years) from sources I know to be credible and my own gotten insights as a linguist/writer. I've always been fascinated (as a thinker, of course) by what is called, 'aboriginal education', and, especially, the complex of seemingly intractable problems that seem to be part and parcel of its existential lot. So, it was from this perspective that a thought suddenly struck me (accident-like):

There is a maw, an insatiable maw (ie, absence), where thoughts and ideas should be.

It is achieved by way of sole reliance on 'plain language' explanation of not only ideas but for all of life. It may not be deliberate, but a suggestion is implanted nonetheless: knowledge is law, the meanings of words are (arbitrarily) 'legislated'; we really have no role to play.

For those of us involved in language and education issues the insidious results are apparent (though we've always assumed this-is-the-best-we-can-hope-for). The set-up of the aboriginal school system is institutional and not community-based as it should be (as it is with the rest of main-stream Canada, no?). Aboriginal schools—the best thing since the invention of family—are really political 're-education' centres.

When I say 'community-based' I don't mean one that is designed by a bureaucrat but a school whose purpose and benefits are apparent to the community because its very presence has enhanced the lives of its average members, rather than just the few who seem to succeed despite of it—'succeed', not only in the conventional sense but also in the social/cultural/linguist/intellectual sense (or, inuliurniq, as our parents fully and reasonably once expected of our schools).

So, back to dumping on 'plain language'...

As I've been doing my literary review and mulling over the central ideas of medical terminology ravenously, I've come across some real gems (which I will not share here out of respect for errant (misled, really) translators). I've come to realize that the translator (reader, listener, learner) is rarely at fault (if ever). The fault lies in well-intended but ultimately misguided source material that has somehow ended up being a poorly-executed explanation rather than the actual source material.

Rendering important ideas (such as scientific notions/principles, climate change, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, etc.) into plain language is a tricky proposition at the best of times. It is not recommended (especially in a bilingual context) if the essential logical and technical linkages to the real world end up on the way-side in the interest of simplification and false sense of clarity.

What I've been doing (or, attempting anyway) is looking at medical terminology (or, for that matter, scientific terminology in general) in its elemental forms and trying to account for not only the semantic content but also the semiological frame in rendering the ideas into the Inuit language. Being a highly-visual person, I try and incorporate as much illustrative material as I think necessary. Most of these illustrations are structural but some also refer to important processes and functions.

I think about how I learn, and try and apply it to my thinking on education. This is how I teach myself maths: I get very little from pure equations; where I begin to see and recognize their importance in mathematical discourse is when I see the geometric/graphic results of using them and what would happen without them. In a sense, the symbolism is less important than the operations that can be done on the available symbols logically and semantically.

In the course of playing, new things are created.


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