For a language to exist and be learnable by persons from a variety of cultures, it is necessary that words have definite uses and defined concepts that transcend particular cultures. The English language, for example, is learned by many peoples of the world unfamiliar with English or North American cultures. Critical thinkers must learn to use their native language with precision, in keeping with educated usage.
Unfortunately, many students do not understand the significant relationship between precision in language usage and precision in thought. Consider, for example, how most students relate to their native language. If one questions them about the meanings of words, their account is typically incoherent. They often say that people have their own meanings for all the words they use, not noticing that, were this true, we could not understand each other.
Students speak and write in vague sentences because they have no rational criteria for choosing words. They simply write whatever words pop into their heads. They do not realize that every language has a highly refined logic one must learn in order to express oneself precisely. They do not realize that even words similar in meaning typically have different implications. Consider, for example, the words explain, expound, explicate, elucidate, interpret, and construe.
- Explain implies the process of making clear and intelligible something not understood or known.
- Expound implies a systematic and thorough explanation, often by an expert.
- Explicate implies a scholarly analysis developed in detail.
- Elucidate implies a shedding of light upon by clear and specific illustration or explanation.
- Interpret implies the bringing out of meanings not immediately apparent.
- Construe implies a particular interpretation of something whose meaning is ambiguous.