I have vague memories, from my college years, of reading about and discussing the role of language in cognitive development, and vice versa. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, I harbor memories of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which as I recall involved a four- or five-stage process…the components of which I have long since forgotten.
Despite the fact that what I learned has faded, it has never disappeared entirely. Periodically, I still read bits and pieces about cognitive development and how Piaget’s theory is occasionally updated to incorporate new information gleaned from research, observation, and assessment. Some of the “updates” to Piaget’s theory, as I recall, argue that the “nature” versus “nurture” assertions about cognitive development are specious and that there are as-yet-unknown-but-powerful interactions between nature and nurture that inform cognitive development.
Somewhere along the line, maybe in college or maybe afterward, I was introduced to the concept that language informs cognition; that is, that a person cannot even recognize the existence of an object or an idea for which he or she has no descriptive word. My immediate take on that concept was that it was absurd on its face. But something tempered my original rejection of that idea. Which brings me to the reason this issue has arisen from the recesses of my mind this Saturday morning.
The reason: I started wondering: is it possible that the North Korean state is using language as a means of keeping its own people under control? That is, are there subtle and not-so-subtle manipulations of language that are being used by the Kim Jung Un regime to keep the North Korean people “in line” and to color their perceptions of the world outside their borders? Well, I suppose the assumption is that “of course that’s what he’s doing;” but I wonder if we really know. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how, other than brute force and absolute control over the public’s access to media, the regime is able to control the people by “talking them into” believing what the state wants them to believe?
And that leads me to a question that hits closer to home: are we, here in this deeply democratic and open society (tongue firmly planted in cheek) being controlled in the same way? To what extent has our own cognitive development, individually and collectively, been shaped and molded to fit the government that we ostensibly elect to lead us?
Old, tired, and worn-out ideas from college can come back to haunt the state, methinks.