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5 The Role of Language: A Foundation for a Social Perspective on Invention Language and Rhetorical Invention \Vhenever we think and write about language, which is itself so much a part of our thinking, a degree ofuncertainty seems unavoidable . Such self-conscious reflection in language about language is, George Steiner advises, "a proceeding inside a circle of mirrors" that necessarily invites counterstatement: "Each statement, ifit is to be of any serious interest at all, will be another way of asking." 1 In this chapter I am concerned with a "way of asking" two main questions that explore language as a foundation for a view of invention as a social act. First: is it appropriate to regard language as an active force in thinking and inventing rather than a passive copy of the "real thing," whether that be an external object or an internal thought? And second: to what extent should we consider the use of language in invention to be a social act relying on a shared system of symbols developed and used by a language community, as opposed to the private act of individuals? To explore these questions, I will draw on pertinent insights from various linguists, psychologists, and philosophers of language to suggest that we re-examine some prevalent assumptions about language , especially as it relates to invention. I review copy theory as it 96 Invention as a Social Act pertains to language and to the relationship between knowledge and reality. I then discuss Immanuel Kant's advance over copy theory and Ernst Cassirer's extension of Kant's philosophy to include symbolization and the role of culture in influencing the ways we constitute reality. This movement in the philosophy of language away from copy theory toward symbolic forms provides a theoretical basis for understanding the role of language in a view of invention as a social act. I ask that we give serious consideration to two main conclusions . First, language should be viewed as an active force in the way we constitute-not simply copy-reality; language thus plays an active role in how we perceive and think and invent. Second, language should be viewed in its development and its use as a dialectic behveen individual and social realms. Invention that occurs \Vith language has often been understood as a principally intrapsychic event that goes on privately within the individual. Yet language is inevitably social as well. It is what we inherit from previous generations , what we learn from others, what we share with others. Language , which is to a considerable extent the basis for invention, is thus itself the result of an ongoing social process. Traditionally, those concerned with what have been called (misleadingly , no doubt) "creative" or "literary" uses of language have been likely to favor the first conclusion and oppose the second; that is, they would affirm the active role that language plays in creating a world (albeit a fictitious world rather than the one we live in day-today ), but they would emphasize that this creation is an individual rather than a social act. On the other hand, those concerned mainly with scientific or technical writing or with what has been called "functional" writing-writing in which the "real world" supposedly does its work-tend to de-emphasize the creative role of language or to regard it as an obstacle to a clear rendering of the world as it exists objectively. At the same time, they affirm the social over the individual aspect of language, social in that it stresses a common understanding of a world we all share, as opposed to a private or fictitious world that an individual might create. Fortunately, writers and teachers are becoming increasingly aware that these diflerences between aspects or uses of language are not as extreme as they are often made to seem, though textbooks continue either to avoid discussions of the nature and uses of language , or to make statements about language that are unhelpful or The Role of Language 97 even misleading. The viewpoints I advocate here should, I think, be acceptable to both the literary and the functional language "camps" if they keep in mind that each is interested in emphasizing, perhaps exploiting, different aspects of the full range of possibilities that language offers, and that the differences are not always as great as they are automatically assumed to be. A dogmatic, simplified view oflanguage leads us to underestimate the role that language plays in invention and indeed in inquiry. I suggest that...


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