About This Word – an introduction to this feature in the Wordsmyth Blog …
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In Part I of this introduction, we talked about the importance of a participatory perspective on language – taking a “languaging” perspective (1).  This term focuses attention on how language is used actively, producing meaningful communication. (https://www.wordsmyth.net/blog/2020/04/about-this-word-creating-the-living-vocabulary-of-our-time-part-i/)

In our search to uncover the hidden lives of our words, we will try to pay special attention to two features of our “languaging”: naming our world, and defining our words.

On the one hand, the issue of naming, or “word choice”, deals with “what to call a particular part of our shared experience”. For example, when a virus spreads from China to Italy, we ask whether to call it an “epidemic” or a “pandemic”.   When new words are brought to our attention, we have more choices for constructing clear messages – if we aren’t overwhelmed by the number or the technical character of the words.

On the other hand, the issue of definition arises when someone uses a word that is difficult to interpret. The issue is “ how shall we define this word”.  Thus, when we receive a notice that only companies that provide “essential” services can stay open, we quickly realize there is an issue of how “essential” is to be defined, and by whom.   

Each definition is shaped from the perspective of the person or institution offering the definition. Some definitions offer a description of how words are generally used – for example, dictionary definitions. Some definitions prescribe how we should use a word, because of the authority of the definer, without depending on persuasion. And some definitions clarify a meaning in order to persuade us to understand the underlying concept or the particular sense of a word.

With our ATW feature, we want to create an awareness of – and demand for – the positive work of stewarding our language. We will also take note of negative influence on language – characterized by such terms as “doublespeak”.  But our main purpose is to invite all of us to take advantage of opportunities to steward our language in positive ways.

Ultimately, we aim to illustrate the many ways we live with words, and to show how the things we do with words are key to living a meaningful life. 

Please let us know what you think of this feature. We also welcome your contributions and suggestions.

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Notes:

1. For an educational perspective on this term, see David Bloome and Faythe Beauchemin, “Languaging Everyday Life in Classrooms” in Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice 2016, Vol. 65, 152-165; DOI: 10.1177/2381336916661533. For a perspective from second language teaching and learning, see Li Wei, “Translanguaging as a Practical Theory of Language” Applied Linguistics 2017: 00/0: 1–23 ß Oxford University Press 2017.  doi:10.1093/applin/amx039. And for a perspective from linguistics, see Nigel Love, “On Languaging and Languages”, in Language Sciences, Volume 61, May 2017, Pages 113-147; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2017.04.001

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