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Maciamo
31-10-07, 13:37
It is a very common word, but I have always found it ambiguous. The power implied in the word is not clear. Even dictionaries accord two quite different meanings to it.

The first one is "accept" as in "I respect our differences" or "You have another opinion and I respect that".

The second meaning is much stronger. It means "esteem", "admire" or "hold in high regard", as in "I respect great composers like Mozart" or "People should have more respect for scientists who work hard to find new cures for diseases".

Those two words, even though spelt and pronounced the same way, are clearly distinct from each others for me. Hence the ambiguity in conveying the right message, or understanding what others mean.

When I hear things like "People have no respect for anything these days" or "You should show him more respect". Which one of them does the speaker have in mind ? It may seem obvious from the tone or context, but usually it is not. Even when you think it is obvious, you might be up for a surprise once you start asking questions to the other person about what they intended to say. Maybe it is because not everybody realises that this word has tow meanings, and many confuse both so that they don't even know what they mean once they carefully think about it.

I am the kind of person who I listen carefully about the words that others use.. I may also take a few seconds to think about what word I am going to use, or how I am going to turn my sentence to avoid ambiguities (sometimes people wonder why I wait before talking back to them, and that gets worse when I have to speak several languages the same day and cannot recall the words I want to use in the language being used at that moment).

I wish we could change languages to develop more accurate vocabulary so as to prevent such ambiguities. There should be general words with a broad meaning and more specific words with a well-defined meaning. Words with several meaning not easily distinguishable from the context (like "respect") should be avoided.

English is already the best language in the world for the richness of its vocabulary. It has plenty of nuances not found in other European languages. But it still falls short of my expectations.

miu
29-11-07, 15:21
I think raising such an issue in fact makes you think what it really is that you wish to change. Is it to create new words about something, wish people thought more like you or is it that you hope you didn't have to explain anything to people.

I suppose one obvious answer to why we don't have exact words for everything is that not everyone thinks the same way and everyone uses a language in their own way. A rational way of thinking about it is that peopel are capable of combining words with other words to create meanings and explain what they want to say. Also, the diea of creating words with specific meanings naturally raises the question abotu whose meaning it actually is and who defines what meaning everyone should use. Which one group/entity is entitled to rule the meaning for a whole number of language users?

An accurate vocabulary would require that everyone thinks alike and that there is no room for adaption or changes. Therefore, if we do not have an accurate vocabulary, what does that imply?

I'm not saying what is right or wrong, however, those are just some thoughts that popped into my head about the question.

Maciamo
29-11-07, 21:58
I think raising such an issue in fact makes you think what it really is that you wish to change. Is it to create new words about something, wish people thought more like you or is it that you hope you didn't have to explain anything to people.

I don't expect other people to think like me. I dont even think it is possible. But I wish there were less misunderstandings caused by too ambiguous vocabulary. Japanese language, for example, is extremely ambiguous compared to French or English. English has more words, more nuances and more specific terms than French, but it also shares a lot of the ambiguous words, like "respect". Words with broad meanings are also necessary, but in additon to specific words, not instead of them.


Which one group/entity is entitled to rule the meaning for a whole number of language users?

I never said that. Each language has its own words with their own meaning, which often do not match exactly those of other languages. But it is fairly obvious than with more words it is easier to avoid confusion, no matter how words are associated with meanings.



An accurate vocabulary would require that everyone thinks alike and that there is no room for adaption or changes.

I simply disagree with that.

miu
29-11-07, 22:36
Let me rephrase: a vocabulary that aims to be accurate in defining specific words for things that involve a more undefined concept is rather rigid and does require that we all have the same sort of thinking about what the word means. If I know what I mean by a certain idea, how can I know there is a word for it. Are opinions or ideas restricted to specific and accurate meaning of words? Besides, if new categories of accurateness have to be created, someone has to create them, right? I didn't say that you said so, but it's the next obvious step.

Or maybe you were thinking more about the natural formation of languages. When thinking about changing vocabulary into a more specific direction, it is perhaps interesting to think about why the words specifically aren't exact. I'm not implying that either option (changing/not changing) is better or worse than the other, there just probably are reasons why vocabularies and languages are the way they are. My guess is that people specificallydon't want to be specific. After all, it is quite dangerous in social contexts :blush:

So, if the more socially profitable way of being ambiguous wins over accurateness, some sort of majority has to have supported it. Doesn't a turn towards more accuracy then, really, include an implication of other people thinking more like you? But the difference in this is, though, that it doesn't mean having the same opinions about everything, it's more about the thought process.

Kinsao
05-12-07, 14:23
Good point about the meanings of the word 'respect'. I had never thought about it before and always inclined more towards the second interpretation, but I can see the first also.

As someone who enjoys creative (well somewhat!) writing, I have a liking for ambiguous words as I find them very useful for conveying a 'package' of meaning all in one go - if you get what I mean. I like the way those ambiguities can make someone think more deeply about a sentence and see several different meanings in it. These can then interplay and affect each other, enriching each other in the process. However, I agree this is far more 'useful' in a creative type of writing such as stories or poems, than in such things as business or when you simply want to communicate without ambiguity! Then, of course, the more specific words, the better.

Generally, I think if people want to make their meaning especially clear and avoid misunderstanding, they qualify what they are saying with additional words. A wider vocabulary in the English language would be good, but there would also be large amounts of rarely-used words, in addition to a large proportion of the population who still used a limited vocabulary, so maybe much wouldn't be gained in 'real terms'.

ramblinjohn
01-02-08, 15:08
Maciamo,

You seem to equate the number of words in a language with indicating its subtlety. Research shows that all languages studied are capable of expressing anything another can. his may not be a single word level - so what? Who cares?

As for "respect" as with most lexical items in any language its meaning is subject to diachronic shift. It's a perfectly normal process, why shoudl this word be any different? Dictionaries are an imperfct guide. Just as important is the increased use of the word respect, for example in the UK among teenagers, such that "I respect that" can now often mean "I like that" or even "I don't want to argue with you over that even though I disagree".

Respect isn't ambiguous, just polysemous. Try looking up the word "set" or "chair" in any dictionary.

gaijinalways
19-03-08, 16:50
Good thread Maciamo. Word meanings are a common area of pitfalls for my students, as they often might intend an obscure meaning within a sentence where the usual meaning would be quite different. Another problem is often the register of their expression as well, with intended casual responses bordering on very formal replies.

Maciamo posted
The first one is "accept" as in "I respect our differences" or "You have another opinion and I respect that".

The second meaning is much stronger. It means "esteem", "admire" or "hold in high regard", as in "I respect great composers like Mozart" or "People should have more respect for scientists who work hard to find new cures for diseases".

As to your example, that's a good one. Sometimes words have similar meanings, and here the degree is part of the meaning.


ramblinjohn posted
You seem to equate the number of words in a language with indicating its subtlety.

As to more words making a language subtle, not necessarily. Some of this is a cultural usage. I would say in many ways British English is more subtle generally than American English, even though American English has more words. It's more the way the language is commonly used that causes it to be subtle or not.

ramblinjohn posted
Research shows that all languages studied are capable of expressing anything another can. his may not be a single word level - so what? Who cares?

I am afraid that this is not necessarily true. More isolated cultures without technology or snow for example, will not usually have words to describe those concepts as they don't exist in their linguistic or physical universe. Of course, religion or spirits may be used to 'explain' what they are.