"Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday."
Ludwig Wittgenstein (PI§38)
One way of promoting your blog is to participate in discussions on other blogs. Not suprisingly, this has given rise to so-called "comment spam", which are usually automatically generated comments whose only purpose is to link to another website. "Braydon" left such a comment on my last post, and normally I would just delete it. Out of curiosity, however, I clicked through to his "splog" (via his user account, not the link in his comment) and found a delicious piece of irony: a poorly written post about language learning.
At first pass, it looks like a piece of grammatically correct writing. In fact, if you paste it into a Word document, the grammar checker only underlines one sentence and one word. But if you try to actually make sense of it, you get the strange sense that it has been written by a machine. More distressingly, it suffers from some typically "academic" defects of style. Consider the first paragraph:
People utilize the concept of vacation as a necessary tool to help them breakaway from the daily demands of family and work so that they can recuperate their mental capacities. The idea of vacation has expanded tremendously as technology brings the world closer together and individuals desire the experience and knowledge attained from visiting another country. One of the major factors in the development of any culture is found in their language.
All of these sentences are subtly wrong in ways that suggest that the writer wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying. (I put "Braydon" in quotation marks because I don't think he's a real person, and certainly not being "himself"; if the "writer" turns out to be a machine, that wouldn't surprise me.) Like I say, it also resembles bad academic writing in a number of important ways.
While the text is really just about vacation as such, it talks about the concept of vacation, as if that somehow makes the subject more important or "smart". But people don't use the concept of vacation to break with the daily grind, they actually go on one. Likewise, it is not the idea of vacation that has expanded, it is the actual range of places that people go. It is true that this paragraph could have been about how people use their thoughts of vacation to get through the working day, but it clearly isn't. It's about actually going places where you will need a second language.
Like bad academic writing, it also uses big words like "utilize" and "recuperate" without quite knowing what some of them mean. (One recuperates from something, like an illness or injury.) And it hasn't considered the appropriateness of the qualification "necessary". Vacation is a good way to break away (two words!) from a daily grind, but it is not the only way (if you want a break, a vacation is not necessary, but certainly advisable). Finally, look at the last sentence. The idea it's trying to express is that language is an important aspect of culture, but it ends up saying that one factor is found in the language. Clearly, (traces of) a great many cultural factors can be "found in" the language, so if you're going to talk about only one of them you'll have to name it. (The "writer" of course thinks he's already naming it: the language.)
Virtually every sentence in the post suffers from this pseudo-academic turgidity: "enhancing the abilities of your vacation" (vacations have abilities?), "citizens are more open to your tourist advancements" (which comes off rather creepy, if you ask me), "maximize the potential of your vacationing experience" (meaning simply that you will get the most out of your vacation).
Then there's the opposite of the first defect I pointed out. Here the idea or thought of something is left out and replaced with the thing that needs to be thought about:
Many travelers make the mistake that the only second language acquisition they require is learning how to ask simple questions regarding location, directions, or medical assistance.
They make the mistake of thinking this, not of it actually being the case.
One soon catches on, of course. This text has not been written to be read by someone who is interested in the subject, but in order to deploy a number of "search terms" so that Google will identify the blog as one that is about the same thing as the website it links to, "second language acquisition" in this case. (This becomes really obvious when it talks about "learners of second language acquisition": one learns or acquires a language; one does not learn the acquisition.) Here, too, it resembles bad academic writing. Such writing is not trying to communicate any specific idea to the reader. It is just trying to use a specific list of words in grammatically correct combinations.
It is in this use of language—when it "goes on holiday", as Wittgenstein puts it—that the meaning of perfectly good words is eroded. Like tourism, such writing doesn't really convey an experience, just the pretense of an experience. I tend to agree that this is the source of all our philosophical problems.