THIS continues my animated online discussion on complicated sentences last week with Max Tumbali, a very
articulate follower of my new English-usage features page on Facebook. The discussion left off with with me saying that those who habitually express themselves in convoluted sentence constructions haven’t really learned how to organize their thoughts and make them easily understandable to their listeners.
Max: I agree with you but with regard to a philosopher trying to deliberate on a philosophical issue, he thinks that by employing complex sentences, he can better drive home the point taking into account not only its denotative meaning but also its connotations and nuances. His effort is much similar to preparing a special menu that requires more varied ingredients to achieve a desired taste.
Joe: Maybe so, Max, but I think a philosopher who can explain his complicated ideas in plain and simple language can convince people much more easily than philosophers who use very dense and convoluted prose.
Max: I think so too. But then simplifying the medium of expression in the desire to make an idea or thought intelligible and understandable, one may court the danger of reducing the scope that that idea is intended to cover, thus sacrificing the integrity and the wholeness of the thought. The explanation may be complicated, but if it serves to evoke all that the idea stands for, then why should it be jettisoned in favor of a much simpler one?
Joe: Let me be lecturesque a little bit, Max. Communication is actually a matter of conveying one’s thoughts and ideas in the appropriate language register, which is simply the variety of language that a speaker uses in a particular social context or situation. Philosophers will have their own language register, and so with poets, clerics, managers, salesmen, office clerks, and janitors, but the good communicator calibrates his language register to fit a particular audience or listener. In truth, you can only communicate effectively with someone by using the words, thoughts, ideas and images that are already in that person’s head.
Max: Well, I think I deserved that lecture considering my mind’s limited reach. But what I want to point out is that in our attempt to convey our message to others in the clearest and simplest way possible, we somehow in the process chip away some elements that, though maybe not essential, can aid in capturing the whole essence of what we want to convey…We dare reduce to the barest minimum our mode of expression in the hope that others won’t miss the meaning of our message. But then as you have said, one has to calibrate one’s mode of communicating to suit the listener’s capacity to understand. In short, it obliges all parties involved to be generous, sincere, capable, tolerant, and unprejudicial in pursuing the task of attaining clarity of meaning.
Joe: That’s true, Max. When we write or say our ideas, we are actually trying to share our perception of reality with other people. But no matter how long or detailed we are in sharing that perception, it will never be the totality of all that we know because that totality can only be perceived by ourselves alone. It’s the stuff of what we are as a unique living mind.
Max: Well, I guess that encapsulates our understanding of the nature of human communication. But just a thought: Wouldn’t we in the future perhaps stumble on an invention that will render obsolete our usual way of communicating—perhaps a piece of invention that will bring us closest to a genuine understanding of ourselves, our thoughts, and our reality? And I’d like to add that our unintended misperception of reality is a dangerous thing.
Joe: That’s right, Max. It’s just that some people actually can’t resist pursuing dangerous things.
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