Application Exercise--Answer Example

The answers we provide here are meant to serve as guidelines. There are a number of ways this could be expressed.

1. The concept of terministic screens suggests that language affects the ways we observe our world and express it to others by enabling one perspective while eliminating others.

Main Idea: Terministic screens determine what we know and how we know

 1. Terministic screens work like camera lenses.

      a. Different lenses change the texture and form even if the object doesn't change.

 2. Terministic screens frame our experiences.

 3. Terministic screens enable our observations.

      a. our choice of terms sets limits on what we can see.

Original Text:

Kenneth Burke's concept of terministic screens is useful for understanding how thoroughly what we say we know is filtered through our terms. He explains the process with reference to the function of a lens filter in photography. Different photographs taken of the same scene using different filters will reveal new textures and forms, even though the object itself doesn't change. Burke concludes: "Not only does the nature of our terms affect the nature of our observations, in the sense that terms direct the attention to one field rather than another. Also many of the observations are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made=" (Language as Symbolic Action, 46). A terministic screen functions like a framing of experience by singling out or highlighting certain aspects for focused attention. Even more important, however, terministic screens enable our observations, so the angle of approach we take to phenomena through our vocabularies sets limits on what observations are possible. To borrow from Burke's analogy, if you take a picture of an object using a red filter, you will see lots of red because the filter selectively transmits red but blocks out other colors in the spectrum from passing through it. Cinematographers and digital video experts have been known to smear Vaseline over a clear filter to achieve a diffuse or soft focus on the resulting film or video. The Vaseline softens sharp contrasts in lighting by intercepting them at the camera lens.


Main Idea: Our attempts to describe reality are limited by the terms available to us and the ones we choose.

1. Alternative means of representation are possible.

Original Text:

Because terministic screens have this filtering effect, our attempts to describe or interpret reality are limited initially by the terms available to us, and then further, by which ones we choose. Given this fundamental principle, it behooves us to bear in mind that our attempts to reflect reality by our choice of terms will not only be limited, but the attempts themselves will have motives associated with them... Our selection of terms is an act of choosing among alternative means of representation. In choosing to describe a thing this way, we implicitly choose not to represent it that way. We would describe a loaded gun as protection or as a threatening weapon, depending on whether we are pointing it or it is aimed at us.