The Linguistic Creation of Reality, a Crag talk by Dr. Christopher Beedham

CRAG conference 2015
3 December 2015
University of Edinburgh
LLC – 50 George Square – 6 pm

Christopher Beedham, Keynote Speaker at the Crag Confluence 2015, 3-5 December 2015

The Linguistic Creation of Reality, in Grammar and Ideology

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Christopher Beedham, Dept. of German, School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews, Scotland


This paper puts forward the thesis that language creates the reality that we perceive, i.e. there is no such thing as objective reality. Saussure devised the term ‘sign’ for words, morphemes and grammatical constructions, and said that the sign consists of signifiant (form) and signifié (the thing signified) and that the sign is indivisible, i.e. signifiant and signifié are inseparable, a difference in form inevitably carries with it a difference in meaning. The linguistic creation of reality happens in both grammar and political ideologies. For grammar we will show that the passive construction in English – the form be + V-ed, as in My house was burgled last night – has two different meanings created for it by two different formal analyses, viz. the voice analysis and the aspect analysis. For political ideologies we will show how English Nukespeak, the language of pro-nuclear arms rhetoric, creates a reality in which nuclear weapons are made to appear harmless, protective and peaceful; and we will show how between 1949 and 1989 the German language of the GDR was a socialist German, whilst the language of West Germany was a capitalist German. To speak a language or language variety is to think in the categories and concepts which that language or language variety creates.

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