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Language in Belief

 

Explanations > Beliefs > Language in Belief

Nouns | Adjectives | Verbs | So what?

 

A way of understanding belief is through the structure of language and how each part leads to beliefs. For example:

Nouns

Nouns are things. We hold beliefs about these things. Firstly, that they exist, and then that they have various attributes. Three types of nouns are distinct in beliefs: objects, people and concepts.

Objects

Objects, from cars to cauliflowers, are inanimate things. They can be complex and difficult to understand, though we often simplify our perception of them using basic operational models. These help us interact with the objects and as long as the model is good enough, we do not trouble ourselves with finer inaccuracies.

People

People, from individuals to whole nations, are really variations of objects, though they have the added complexity of agency, where they think for themselves, and so their actions are not always predictable. Yet we often have beliefs about people that assume they are as consistent and predictable as inanimate objects.

Concepts

Concepts are harder to grasp and we often use analogies to make sense of them. A problem here is that we can take the analogy too literally. For example we tend to extend the idea of animal intelligence in attributing human thoughts and feelings to them.

Events

Events are made up of a series of things that happen, often within an overall container event. They can be brief or last a while. They can also be a collection of events. For example a person can have beliefs about when they were bullied at school.

Adjectives

Adjectives describe nouns, giving more information about these 'things'. So what can you say about things?

Properties

Things can have properties. They can be big, small, clever, complex and so on. When we add an adjective to a noun, we enrichen it. We also create beliefs about it.

Character

Properties of people, other than physical attributes such as height, are typically related to the character or personality of the person. We hence think about people as good, bad, clever, devious and so on. We also tend to think these characteristics as traits, that they are permanent and unchangeable. This contrasts to thoughts about ourselves, where we believe we have far more control over what we think and do.

Intent

We think we can read other people's minds and hence the intent behind their actions. Being intensely social animals, we can do this to some extent, but our belief in our own ability to mind-read are often overly exaggerated.

Verbs

Things act, behaving in certain ways. Beliefs about verbs are often based on attachment to nouns, for example that an individual thing or person has done something. This includes complex verb phrases, for example the belief that a person has forgotten to post a letter.

To be (existence, association, equality)

The verb 'to be' is highly significant in beliefs. First, it implies existence, that a thing is distinct and real, and can consequently be understood, described and we can interact with it. 'To be' also is used to connect things with adjectives, for example when you say a person is stupid. The verb 'to be' also creates equality. When I say 'you are clever', it implies you are always clever, with high ability in all things.

Relationship

Verbs can also connect objects, suggesting relationships between things. The cat hates the dog. The dog wants food. And so on. When we link things we create beliefs about these relationships, for example that the cat will attack the dog and that the dog will eat any food. Watching how verbs connect, we can see implied or assumed relationships.

Is like (analogy)

Verbs can associate meaning for example in the use of metaphor and analogy. When we compare two nouns, we build a link, saying 'A is like B' or, more boldly, 'A is B'. In doing so we transfer properties of B onto A, allowing us to make all kinds of further assumptions.

Tense

Tense is very significant in belief. In the past, we believe that things have (or have not) happened. We may believe that certain things are happening now. In the future, we believe things will happen or not happen. Optimism and pessimism are simply beliefs about good or bad things happening in the future.

So what?

In other words, language is very much embodiment of belief, which means that if you listen carefully to others you can hear their beliefs coming out in much of what they say. Understanding this you can tailor your own language to support or challenge the beliefs you are hearing. Being supportive can get you greater trust, while provocation can cause them to rethink or fight (which, if you win, will assert your dominance over them).

See also

Use of Language

 

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