Language and creativity

Now to explain, in part, the other post.

In amongst my list of curiosities about learning is what and how we learn before we have what becomes our native language.

For me, it is logical that we do learn before we have recognisable and expressible language skills, and because we do learn that skill: the ability to communicate in our native language.

Gardner, in his preface to Frames of Mind (1983), comments:

‘Constraints research has revealed that, by the end of early childhood, youngsters have developed powerful and already entrenched theories about their immediate world: the world of physical objects and forces; the world of living entities; the world of human beings, including their minds.  Surprisingly, and in contradiction to the claims of the great developmentalist Jean Piaget (Mussen and Kessen 1983), these naive ‘conceptions’ and ‘theories’ prove difficult to alter, despite years of schooling.  And so it often happens that the ‘mind of the five-year-old’ ends up unaffected by the experiences of school. … At first blush, this diagnosis would appear to sound a death knell for formal education.  It is hard enough to teach to one intelligence; what if there are seven?  It is hard enough to teache even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning? (p.xxii-xxiii)

So we learn our native language.

And, now, I am engaged in helping people work in a language which is not their native language, with writing for thesis purposes.

In the end, a thesis is an argument substantiating a claim.  The writing involves a protocol of exposing the substance of the claim: the grounds, the warrants, the backing, the qualifications and the rebuttals (as Toulmin puts it).

As I understand it, one of the protocols of western/occidental argument construction [that moves beyond ‘information’ (‘conveying the facts’) to a synthesis (that, in my case, prefers some sort of explanatory theory)] involves defining categories, and includes constructing the bounds of new categories and categories of conceptualisations, and sometimes by what is called nominalisation – making nouns out of verbs, or abstractions, or higher levels of generalisation.

That is to say, as far as I can express it, how we think, in the so-called 21st century world, has a high degree of reliance on ‘literacy’ – how we manage and extend our learning of language.

But what if this process of thinking, which privileges the ‘big picture’, is unbalanced, and to the extent that it is unbalanced, is faulty?

Do people who learn in another culture, with another kind of language, who may, by that culture and language, privilege ‘attention to detail’, and have other ways of managing detail and synthesising from it, both think differently and have other ways of problem solving, and ways which might help us deal with the complexity of the change wrought in our environment from the hegemony that has permitted virtually unrestrained exploitation of natural resources?

If so, does training them to think and express themselves, in compliance to the western/occidental mode, risk destroying that alternative?

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences ( 2nd ed.). London: HarperCollins.

Toulmin, S., Rieke, R., & Janik, A. (1984). An Introduction to Reasoning ( 2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

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