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Two Uses of Language: IA Richards

“Richards provide the theoretical foundations on which the technique of  verbal analyses was built.” George Watson. Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893 - 1979) is the first-rate critic, since Coleridge, who has formulated a systematic and complete theory of poetry, and his views are highly original and illuminating. In his “Principles of Literary Criticism” chapter 34, he discusses the most neglected subject, i.e. The Theory of Language and The Two Uses of Language. To understand much the theory of poetry and what is said about poetry, a clear comprehension of the differences between the uses of language is indispensable. David Daiches says, “Richards conducts this investigation in order to come to some clear conclusions about what imaginative literature is, how it employs language, how its use of language differs from the scientific use of language and what is its special function and value.” According to I.A. Richards language can be used in two ways, i.e. the scientific use and the emotive one.


It is only in recent years that serious attention is given to the language as a science. In the scientific use of language, we are usually matter of fact. All the activities covered by this use require undistorted references and absence of fiction. We may use a statement, true or false, in a scientific use of language, but it may also be used to create emotions and attitudes. This is the emotive use of language. We use words scientifically or for emotional attitudes when words are used to evoke attitudes without recourse to references like musical phrases. Aristotle wisely said, “Better a plausible impossibility than an improbable possibility.” In the scientific use of the language, the difference in reference is fatal (a failure) but in the emotive language it is not so. In the scientific use of language, the references should be correct and the relation of references should be logical. In the emotive use of language, any truth or logical arrangement is not necessary – it may work as an obstacle. The attitudes due to references should have their emotional interconnection and this has often no connection with logical relations of the facts referred to.

Two Uses of Language shows the scientific way is precise, clear and matter of fact, but in poetry, one can make use of fiction and the author says that truth in a work of art means only the internal necessity or rightness of the work of art. It is a matter of outside reality; if the scientific truth is the matter of external reality, the artistic truth is the matter of inner coherence. Richards goes on to examine different uses of the word ‘truth’. In the scientific use, the references are true and logical there is very little involvement of arts. Richards says that the term ‘true’ should be reserved for this type of uses – the scientific use, but the emotive power of the word is far too great for this. The temptations are there for a speaker who wants to evoke certain attitudes.

So Richards goes on to consider the connotations of the word ‘truth’ in criticism. In literary criticism, the common use is ‘acceptability’ or ‘probability’. For example, Robinson Crusoe is true in the sense of the acceptability of things we are told, in the interest of the narrative whether or not such a person existed in real life is not relevant to the ‘truth’ of the novel. A happy ending to King Lear or Don Quixote would be false because it would be unacceptable. In this sense ‘truth’ is equivalent to ‘internal necessity’ or ‘rightness’. That is ‘true’ which accords with the rest of the experience and arouses our ordered responses. Keats uses ‘truth’ in a confused way. He said,‘What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Sometimes it is held that all that is unwanted or redundant is false; as Walter Pater says, ’Surplusage! The artist will dread that, as the runner on his muscles’.

But then superabundance is common in all great art, and is much better than contrived economy. Poetry focuses out attention on emotive responses but science has opened out field after field of possible reference, science is simply the possible organization of references. For a poet daffodils dance as stars do in the Milky Way. So Richards says that the use of fiction is the imaginative use of truth. We know that stars do not twinkle, not do flowers for that matter dance. To say that stars twinkle is unscientific, but Wordsworth in Daffodils says that they do:
                             I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
                             That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
                             When all at once I saw a crowd,
                             A host, of golden daffodils;
                             Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
                             Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
We know that dreams and illusions are not true, yet we dream and enjoy the exercise of dreaming.

Richards tries to promote the idea of harmony between science and poetry, thus, the chief motif of the writer in this essay is to establish the difference between the language of science and the language of art.

19 comments:

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  12. Thought is the telephotographic witness of human judgement and language define human judgement in truthful words, articulated in an idiolect, language. Languages create the world, partially, in which we mortals live and pedantic mathematics applied in language deliver ideal solutions to a common problem. Most persons can think pictorially as do poets. The poet is one exceptional human being blessed with an abundance of discerning powers more so than an ordinary person; they can create a poem in verse or prose, formatted in simple metrical cadences, responding rationally to external stimuli, that aid memory and provide education upon an instant in life that becomes a song. Sound and not the material of some other sense is the basis of human language; our earth is moved by sound and blackness. The whole purpose and objective of poetic language are to give life meaning and provide an abundance of thriving options, beyond boundaries of the minimalist, so we can live well with all in the life and not just to survive, while all the while there is a hue between extremes that define sound health, truth and beauty. Praise be to the poet within us all that guide and speaks in low tones of encouragement upon our good will to all.

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