Language and discovery

4 Dec

The language choice and editorial decisions made when creating a text are powerful forces in shaping responders’ understanding and perceptions.  Indeed, these decisions inevitably guide responders to make particular types of discoveries about self, others and the world.

This significance of language in shaping perception is beautifully represented in ‘The Right Word‘ by Imtiaz Dharker.  This poem explores the role played by language in defining and characterising the figure that stands at the persona’s door.

In the first stanza, the figure “is a terrorist”; a characterisation foreshadowed through the sinister diction of “lurking” and the negative connotations of the word “shadows.”  The use of the high modality word “is” suggests certainty, endowing the persona’s tone with authority and conviction.

In the second stanza, however, this description is challenged.  Here, a rhetorical question is used to ask “Is that the wrong description?”  This device piques responders’ interest, prompting them to reflect critically on the language used and the connotations that flow from language choices.  In contrast to the first stanza, the persona now sees a person “taking shelter in the shadows.”  The sibilant sounds in this phrase soften the language and tone, making the person seem less threatening than the person “lurking” in the previous stanza.

As the poem progresses, the assumptions and descriptions set out in each stanza are tested and replaced in the stanza that follows.  In this way, both persona and responder discover that perceptions are changing, coloured by the language used to articulate one’s world.  Significantly, the figure that, at first glance, may seem threatening can, with subtle linguistic shifts, be viewed as familiar rather than ‘Other’.

As well as illustrating the power of language to shape and alter perception, this text could serve as a related text.  For students studying Life of Pi, for example, the poem can be used to illuminate the dual possibilities for Pi’s narrative; on one version of events, he was trapped aboard a raft with a tiger, and on another the tiger is representative of his animalistic self.  The dual possibilities echo the multiple ‘truths’ professed in ‘The Right Word’.



One Response to “Language and discovery”


  1. Discovery related texts | Once uPUN a time... - December 5, 2015

    […] ‘The Right Word‘ by Imtiaz Dharker (poem) […]


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