203 | N.J. Enfield on Why Language is Good for Lawyers and Not Scientists


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We describe the world using language — we can’t help it. And we all know that ordinary language is an imperfect way of communicating rigorous scientific statements, but sometimes it’s the best we can do. Linguist N.J. Enfield argues that the difficulties run more deeply than we might ordinarily suppose. We use language as a descriptive tool, but its origins are found in more social practices — communicating with others to express our feelings and persuade them to agree with us. As such, the very structure of language itself reflects these social purposes, and we have to be careful not to think it provides an unfiltered picture of reality.

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N.J. Enfield received his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Melbourne. He is currently a professor of linguistics and Director of the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre at the University of Sydney. His recent book is Language vs. Reality: Why Language Is Good for Lawyers and Bad for Scientists.

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