Language underpins everything, but it’s not static, it evolves over time

I’m in Singapore today, immersed in a culture that is so totally familiar to anyone English, yet so very far from home. United by a language and history, divided by the seas. As i sat in the taxi from the airport, talking about the weather with the driver, i got thinking about language and the power it holds.

When we communicate, we establish commonality, we start with small and safe things and graduate onto the more complex once we have a shared language, once we have started to share ideas and work out where we are aligned and where we are different.

My driver got onto talking about his parents, who he described as Chinese, although he identified himself as Singaporean, speaking Chinese. You find that a lot over here: a deeply integrated culture, proud of it’s heritage (almost everyone arrived at some point over the last few centuries to achieve the current level of growth), but integrated around current values and sharing a common language.

Languages are beautiful: whatever words and accents we use, they give us the power to capture ideas, to propagate them and share them around the world. Oral storytelling cultures harnessed language into epic poems and foundation myths, recanted and retold around the campfires and on the trail. Over time these evolved into more formalised stories, pinned to the pages of books (or caught on vellum), bound into collections that reside in libraries for centuries (or printed on cheap paper and sold from vending machines to bored commuters).

In time, even those paper books have given way to digital tomes, virtualised and cloud based, accessible wherever we are and fully indexed and hyperlinked to sources and references.

But at the heart of it, the language beats on: not static, but evolving. Dropping quern, motte and hessian from daily use as newer words like iPad, synergy and tablet take over (tablet on a return journey: it’s previous role describing clay tablets now subverted by it’s aluminium and glass Apple alternative)

Satire, allegory, irony and sarcasm can be shaped by choosing particular words and forms: comedy, scientific language or academic, business or social, we can choose styles and approaches to suit any situation. Or we can choose none at all and just bellow raw emotions out in jumbled rants and rages, spat out from pure emotion and heartfelt pain. Even the same words can be contextual: inflected by tone of voice or situation, by whether spoken, written or sung.

There is enormous redundancy in language: to convey our meaning we need only get some of the words through on a noisy phone line or a message shouted from the window of the departing train.

Words are intensely personal, and yet, after time, can seem as though they were spoken by someone else. They can remind us of love or hate or be used to sooth the helpless or despairing. We can throw them out carelessly or spend a lifetime crafting them into our life’s work. We can paint with language through poetry or prose (song or texts) as easily as we can through paint or music.

Associations, inflexions and symbolism: words can become icons whilst ideas outlast the words that first caught them.

There is an incredible power in our language, even if we don’t share it, even if you and i can’t speak a single word the same and rely on software to translate the essence of our thoughts and feelings.

We use it everyday, but rarely stop to think how, rarely long enough to choose our words or view the act of communication as a creative process. Words have a power though that lasts beyond the final breath. Without language, could we truly be conscious? Where languages don’t exist, we create them: it’s in our DNA, at the heart of our being.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Ideas, Knowledge, Language, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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