N. J. Enfield, “Language Vs. Reality: Why Language Is Good for Lawyers and Bad for Scientists” (MIT Press, 2022)

Nick Enfield’s book, Language vs. Reality: Why Language is Good for Lawyers and Bad for Scientists (MIT Press, 2022), argues that language is primarily for social coordination, not precisely transferring thoughts from one person to another. Drawing on empirical research, Enfield shows that human lexicons the world over are far more coarse-grained than our perceptual faculties. Yet, at the same time, languages vary in the structure and sophistication of their representations. This means that, for instance, how different languages carve up the world influences not only how their speakers talk about the world, but also how they think about it. The book explores a range of linguistic phenomena, from lexical diversity to linguistic framing to the effects of narrative. As a result of understanding how language shapes our understanding of reality, Enfield argues that we can make more informed—and more ethical—decisions about our own language use, as individuals and communities.

Malcolm Keating is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. His research focuses on Sanskrit philosophy of language and epistemology. He is the author of Language, Meaning, and Use in Indian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2019) and host of the podcast Sutras (and stuff).

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