language as not transparent

Wendy Crebbin (
Tue, 14 May 1996 10:28:08 GMT+1000

Dear Gary

In reply to your question there are several levels of meaning
associated with the statement that language is not transparent -
which is an example of lack of transparency itself.

A. I mean that words rarely have just one meaning. An example of this
from my PhD, which was an examination of quality teaching in higher
education, is the term quality teaching. My research showed many
different meanings of those words depending upon people's positions
in the national and/or institutional heirarchy, their views of
knowledge and their assumptions about human relationships (amongst
other things). None of which are obvious within their stated words.

B. From a postmodern critical feminist perspective all discourses -
that is language and practices - are constantly being interpreted and
contested by different individuals and groups with different access to
power. Further to that, because of this contestation and because
meaning is not absolute but constructed in reference to other words
and meanings, the language and meanings we have today carry the
potential for alternative interpretations. Again - using my example
quality teaching only makes sense in relation to other words like
good or bad; learning and knowledge. Whilst whose definition gets to
be the one which predominates is very highly contested and
significant for future practices.

Which means that any consent over meaning(s) is only partial - in
both senses of the word.

A text you migh enjoy in relation to this is Anna Yeatman, 1994,
Postmodern revisionings of the political, Routledge; New York.

C. The third level of non-transparency of language is the area I am
investigating at the moment, and that is the difficulty of finding
words which mean exactly what we mean. In this regard I have
appreciated the contributions of those who are bi-lingual,
bi-cultural (and in this Alessandra, I include deaf people) who have
already shown how, within their differnt language/cultural
environments they are different and can construct differnt meanings.