The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

Excerpt

A concern with human talking is nothing new. Rhetoric, logic and poetics are almost our oldest academic disciplines. The 20th century is being referred to as the Atomic Age, but those who live in it can hardly escape the stream of verbalization coming from the radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, books, pulpit and platform. It could with some, though not necessarily equal, relevance be called the Verbal Era, because never before has any people been so incessantly exposed to so much verbal output.

The silence of another age is now broken by public address systems and nation-wide hookups. Rarely before have so many people put in their day's work reading, writing, listening and talking. In front of every man handling tobacco leaves or herding sheep there are men billing, recording, accounting, selling, calculating--verbalizing endlessly. If the products of mill and factory are hidden in their handsome packaging, the advertising and public-relations agencies seek to counter that modesty by spot announcements and full-page ads. Rarely before have there been so many special-interest groups and sects promising salvation, planting stories, reaching for listeners and selling via third- class postage. The competition of dogmas goes on without seasonal variation. From anthropology to zoology, books and papers are produced with such restless zeal that librarians clamor evermore for space.

Apart from a certain weariness which the more sensitive recipients of this verbal barrage may experience, there seems little reason to quarrel with the fact of quantity. Some questions, however, might well be raised about the adequacy, the good sense, the significance of all this talk. By what means is some of it to be dismissed and a residue to be studied and preserved?

There have always been some answers to these questions. But it seems only recently that many of the questioners have sought to focus directly on the character of the talk situation itself. Since men talk to themselves and to each other for countless reasons and on countless . . .

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