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Language and creativity
Language and creativity

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2 What is linguistic creativity?

While this course takes language as the starting point for exploring creativity, it is useful to begin by considering a general definition of ‘creativity’. A currently dominant view in the fields of design, technology and the arts in the Western world is that something is creative if it is novel, of high quality and appropriate to the task at hand (Kaufman and Sternberg, 2010). In linguistic terms this could be a neologism or an uncommon metaphor used successfully to communicate a complex concept or idea – such as ‘lazy creature’ to talk about a migraine in example 1 in Figure 1 (see Activity 1 in Section 1).

While this definition represents a particular view of creativity – a view that perhaps encourages a focus on the creative product, rather than the process – it is important to note its (somewhat problematic) implications. First, novelty refers to the idea that the product of creativity has to be something ‘different, new, or innovative’ (Kaufman and Sternberg, 2010, p. xiii). Kaufman and Sternberg, however, do not make explicit on what basis one decides whether something satisfies those criteria. What should the frame of reference be – that is, different, new, innovative compared to what?

Second, high quality suggests that someone somewhere needs to evaluate this new ‘thing’ as good, but it doesn’t specify who is qualified to make such a judgement or how they are meant to do so. The frame of reference seems to be important here too. Finally, appropriacy also seems to be an entirely relative concept. The creative ‘thing’ has to make sense or be useful for a particular context. These qualifications are important to bear in mind throughout this book, but the Kaufman and Sternberg definition is still a good starting point for discussion. Although not everyone will (or should) subscribe to it, the issues it raises are useful ways of thinking in greater depth about the topic of creativity.