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Founder, Reverb Technologies/Wordnik


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How important is a common vocabulary for sharing ideas, and how do we arrive at one?

This Live Conversation will start on November 3, at 2pm ET / 11am PT.

Do we need to all be "on the same page" to have productive conversations? Do we have to use the same language or talk about ideas in the same way? What are some examples of vocabulary that's divisive, rather than helpful (e.g. "death panels")?


Closing Statement from Erin McKean

Thanks so much for all the great stories and suggestions -- such a big question can't be answered in an hour, but it's wonderful to be able to talk about it with the TED community! For more discussions follow my Twitter at @emckean. Thanks everyone!

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  • Nov 3 2011: Ultimately, someone is going to have to find a mathematical underpinning to natural language. It is hard to see how this could be done, because it is such an organic, fluid and ever-changing thing, whilst its intimate connection with personal identity means that there will always be social groups who develop language precisely in order to thwart external definition.

    There are also powerful psychological reasons why we would resist such an attempt. The idea that we - or at least the most basic expressions of ourselves - could be numbers, challenges on many levels.

    Nevertheless, language is rooted in social relationships and shared objectives, which are in turn rooted in sense data and intentionality.

    I suppose I'm arguing for a phenomenological algebra, which is what Kant asked for two and a bit centuries ago, though given the complexities involved he was probably hampered by lack of computing power.

    (This would also have some serious implications across the board.)
    • Nov 3 2011: I think every conversation on this topic begins at Esperanto and ends at Kant. :-)

      But yes, math seems to underlie almost everything, why should language be exempt?

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