Class time: 90 minutes

Goals and objectives:

Students are able to:

  1. understand importance of language in construction of personal, experiental and shared knowledge
  2. understand complexity of language (how language can be used in different forms)
  3. analyze layers of meaning in different contexts (how a text is received and responded to by audiences)
  4. analyze the degree to which individual points of view, experiences and contexts shape responses to texts so as to investigate how text structures and language features are used to convey ideas and represent people and events

    Warming up: 15 minutes

    Let`s raise new questions. Let`s start to explore this journey  in new horizons.

    He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Ninevah.. Genesis 10: 9-10 ( Tower of Babel)

    Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:1–9)

    According to this biblical story, the whole Earth had one language and few words.

    The story starts by telling us the whole world had one language, and that “they were wandering in the east”

    “Come on, let’s go down and ‘confuse’ their language…”

    God proposes that people confuse the language of the people so that they cannot understand each other. Are the language confusion and dispersal two separate actions?  The story becomes a study of cause for how  languages came about.

    Babel (the Hebrew name for Babylon) comes from Akkadian Babilu, meaning “gate of the god” — a reference to the greatest Babylonian deity Marduk (Bel).

    Language and communication 

    For an introduction of language in TOK students are encouraged to compare these definitions about language before we start to “unpack” different layers of knowledge hidden in language.

    According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, language is:”a ​system of ​communication insisting of ​sounds, words, and ​grammar, or the ​system of ​r communication“, ” A system of communication used by a particular country or community“, ‘A system of symbols and rules for writing programs or algorithms.’ etc. communication used by ​people in a ​particular group or ​ type of  work.”, while it is, in the words of the Oxford Dictionaries, “The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.”

    What do we notice when compare these definitions?

    Development: 60 minutes

    It is obvious that we need language for use in more then one dimension. What does it mean? We use language in every day communication with other individuals and groups of people. We read words and sentences given in different texts or books. We sing, we send emoticons sometimes.  We use fingers, palms, hands or the whole body to send a certain message.  We learn or want to teach someone. The most of time when we use these different systems of communication  we don`t think about importance of language.  We just use it because we are adapted to use it. We know that there are so many languages in the world (about 5000). We also know that many languages disappeared. When language dies, in the most of cases, culture where the dying language is an essential component, disappears too.

    What makes a difference between communication between animals and systems of communications in humans is use of grammar or something that we call, taxonomy of language. Taxonomy of language consists of:  Phonemes, Morphemes, Syntax, Phonology – Sounds, Consonants, Vowels

    When answering the question about purpose of language, someone might offer the following answer (and, yes, it is a correct answer, among many others):

    Language is a transmitter which we need to pass knowledge.  We don`t have, as so far, any other such a powerful tool for passing knowledge. 

    The metaphor of Tower of Babel is an excellent example to explain to students that is difficult, if no impossible for one British to pass knowledge further to one Japanese, for instance, without any, even superficial insight in knowledge of Japanese language. But even if one British is familiar with the basics of Japanese language (he or she is capable to pronounce some words), he or she had to know structure of sentence (word order in sentences – syntax)  in above mentioned language in order to reach a message (knowledge)  expressed in that language.

    An example:

    Native speakers know what is not grammatical even if they have never heard the sentence before.

    Syntax structure in different languages:

    Subject – Object – Verb (Japanese, Maninka)

    Subject – Verb – Object (English, Spanish)

    Verb – Subject – Object (Jacaltec, Irish)

    Verb – Object – Subject (Malagasy, Madag.; Huave, Mx)

    Object – Subject – Verb (Xavante)

    A quick task for students (They are asked to do the task in groups. One student may take a role of a “scientist” while others try to communicate with him without use on any kind of communication.)

    Try to put yourself in a position of a scientist who decided to practise an experiment. You want to examine is it possible to communicate with other human beings without use of any kind of language? They should try to give an answer to the following question:

    Is it possible to examine functions of language from the position of an observer, if we tend not to use any kind of communication in this experiment?

    The answer is – no, it is not possible. Even when we think, we use language. It helps us to make an order in our thoughts (sensation – perception – thought – act) and to make of thoughts constructive schemes, ready for use in different kind of situations.  But what happens when we dream? Are we capable to dream only in our native language or in any other language?  In the words of dr. Stephen Dutch:

    Contrary to widespread misconception, you don’t have to be very fluent to dream in other languages. I have dreamt in half a dozen languages, some of which I only know a few phrases of. This dream was in Serbo-Croatian, which I learned a bit of during a six-month military tour in Bosnia in 1996. I can handle simple conversations but am decidedly not fluent. In my dream, I was fumbling for some phrases. After I awoke and recalled the dream, I realized that the phrases were simple courtesy phrases I knew perfectly well. Here again, my dreaming subconscious failed to retrieve data that my conscious could access easily. 

    On another occasion, I was dreaming in German, a language I speak reasonably well. I was fishing for an obscure word I would not normally know (as is the case with many dreams, the exact details are quickly forgotten). I came up with a compound word, and even a fairly convincing explanation for how the word was derived. When I awoke, I was intrigued. Did my subconscious access a long-forgotten word, or integrate other words into an inspired solution to a problem? Well, no. When I looked up the English word in a dictionary, I found the German word was completely different. The compound word my subconscious dredged up? Nonexistent.

    We use language for communication in every sphere of life, no matter do we talk about politics, science, media, literature, arts, small talks etc.

    Language and human nature

    According to new scientific discoveries, newborn and very young infants can already discriminate human speech from other sounds and prefer to listen to it. They also can discriminate their mother’s voice from that of other adult women and they even can discriminate their language from another language.

    Watching activity:

    Watching activity:

Students may discuss about the video after they watch it. This activity is an introduction to the part of class dedicated to an explanation of Chomsky`s “What, Why, How” questions, How do we learn language?, Why we possess language? , What’s the reason for our having language? 

  • Noam Chomsky – theory of innate capabilities for learning language(s)
  • LAD (Language acquisition device) –  an area of our brain which facilitates the development of language. According to Chomsky, LAD enables children to derive the rules of grammar from everyday speech, regardless of the native language.
  • “I’m speaking of the kind of creativity that any child demonstrates when he’s able to come to grips with a new situation: to describe it properly, react to it properly, tell one something about it, think about it in a new fashion for him and so on. I think it’s appropriate to call those acts creative, but of course without thinking of those acts as being the acts of a Newton.” ( Human Nature: Justice versus Power, Noam Chomsky debates with Michel Foucault, 1971)
  • Burhus F. Skinner  (1957) – in his account, environmental influence is of primary significance for language development. He claims that children  children learn  by associating words with meanings.

Students watch a video of dr. Stephen Pinker, Language as a Window into Human Nature

The discussion activity follows.

Deaf children

According to statistics of National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, USA more then 90% of deaf children have hearing parents and “men are more likely than women to report having hearing loss.”

Deaf children are often delayed in language and complex make-believe play but it semms that deaf infants and toddlers seem to master sign language in much the same way and at about the same pace that hearing children master spoken language.

Deaf 10-month-old often “babble” in signs: they produce signs that are meaningless but resemble the tempo and duration of real signs.

Sign language of blind

Deaf-blind people have many different ways of communication. The methods they use vary, depending on the causes of their combined vision and hearing loss, their backgrounds, and their education.

Closure: 15 minutes

  • An announcement that lecture on language will be continued (Language and history, Language and ethics, Language as a weapon, Language and arts)
  • Evaluation
  • A discussion about language and culture(s) – How language “work”? , How language and culture shape and reflect experience? To what extent is language important in shape of cultural identity?


Australian Curriculum, English

Australian Curriculum, Literature

Human Nature: Justice versus Power, Noam Chomsky debates with Michael Foucault

Language Acquisition

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, In Your Dreams

The Cambridge English Dictionary, Language

The Oxford Dictionaries, Language

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis: Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1982.


 Steven Pinker, Language as a Window into Human Nature, You Tube

 Patricia Kuhl, The linguistic genius of babies, TED Talks

I TOUCH YOU (Love story of a blind girl and deaf & mute boy).Short Film


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