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Unlearn/ Relearn\ (2022)


Just as we spend much time looking at information through a smartphone daily without looking at the appearance and construction of the smartphone itself – we speak Cantonese and read words in Traditional Chinese characters every day in Hong Kong without spending much time to learn and to take a closer look at the language and the characters. 

What if we look at a Chinese character as just a character, and listen to the pronunciation of a word as just a sound? What if symbols are completely disconnected from the usual way we form words into comprehensible sentences?


“In order to hear a bare sound we have to listen away from things, divert our ears from them, i.e. to listen abstractly.”


We do not hear things in virtue of hearing the sounds that they make; rather things in hearing their sounds. i.e. we hear things that made the sound instead. The experience of the source is immanent in the experience of the sounds. Applying this to the language we use, we hear the meaning of the combination of sounds according to the syntax of the language, but not the sound itself.

Background: Embodiment of tools

For some tools, we do not usually take a close look at the tools itself, we look through it instead. For example, when using a pair of spectacles, we look through it to see the world. Another more resonating example is: we look at information in the virtual world through a smartphone. We spend so much time with our smartphones but we seldom look at the appearance or the construction smartphone itself. According to Don Ihde this type of relationship between human and technology is called embodied, which is a type of technological mediation.

Method: disembodiment of the language that we use

If you think about it, the described relationship does not apply to just technology. It also exists between human and other tangible and intangible tools, such as languages. In Hong Kong, the most frequently used spoken dialect is Cantonese, and traditional Chinese as written characters. Although we use it and see it on a daily basis, we do not spend enough effort to learn, or even to take a closer look at the language itself.

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