In Northrop Frye's text "Don't You Think it's Time to Start Thinking" he makes a link between language and thinking. Can anyone please explain the link Northrop Frye uses? 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Let's start with a quote from the text: 

Most students need to be taught, very carefully and patiently, that there is no such thing as an inarticulate idea waiting to have the right words wrapped around it. 

Frye is saying that it is wrong to think that a person can have a very good idea and simply needs someone else to provide articulate and precise words to describe the idea. Frye believes that in order to come up with the good idea in the first place, we need the ability to articulate it beforehand. He uses a comical example that until you have words to describe it, you can't articulate whether the pain in your stomach is gas or pregnancy. If you don't have the language, you might resort to pointing at your stomach or saying pain and gesturing in some way. 

Frye's point is that to think intelligently, we need to have an intelligent grasp of vocabulary and language structures. To think intelligently, we need to know what words can do and how they work. 

He takes this a step further. He adds that if we simply learn the basics of language but do not attempt to learn how and why words work in social situations, we merely learn to read and write in order to become puppets: 

. . . because society must have docile and obedient citizens. We are taught to read so that we can obey the traffic signs and to cipher so that we can make out our income tax, but development of verbal competency is very much left to the individual. 

Frye refers to Orwell's novel 1984 in which society has been brainwashed to speak as simply as possible. The less articulate they are, the more easily the government can wield power over them. 

Frye adds that it has been deemed uncool, as an adolescent, to speak articulately. This is obviously a problem.

Similar to today's media, Frye argues that society relies too much on cliches and what we might call "stock responses" and "sound bites." Note that in political debates and discussions, candidates and pundits use repetitive phrases. The problem is these phrases lack substance. They are stock responses which means that many people use them automatically, at any time, with no real thinking behind them. "Let's make America great again." How many times have you heard this phrase with no clarification? "Great" sounds great but there is no thinking behind it. Such phrases are used to pacify the public into nodding thoughtlessly. Frye says this is a problem at all levels of education. His solution is to put more focus and effort in educating students to think critically precisely by teaching them to speak and write critically. For Frye, thinking intelligently requires a strong grasp of how language works, what it can do, and how it is used (for good and bad) in social situations, in the media, and so on. 

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