(yes, coming from a potential English Literature student)
As with most things in our culture, language is a blessing and a curse – it lets us express our ideas to millions of people coherently, and is a very flexible form of communication, as it can be used to discuss topics at any level of intelligence, from a debate into the nature of power in King Lear to a 13375p34k-heavy conversation about God knows what on Reddit message boards. However, language is a curse, in that once we have a control of it, we cannot use any other means to experience our surroundings and form opinions on them; I can only express the complex neurological transmissions in my brain that this post is reflective of with a finite number of blocks of characters, derived from an alphabet of merely twenty-six. Language is not necessary for survival, as many animals live without it, but is is essential in the screwed up culture we’ve cobbled together for ourselves out of brutal survival techniques, false deities and a general dislike of women. Welcome to humanity, folks!
Firstly, language inherently divides us from the world around us: instead of seeing the natural world for the great big mess of buzzing things, squelchy things and green things it is, we see it as a collection of ‘bees’, ‘puddles’ and ‘leaves’, three totally different objects. Even our unified term for ‘nature’ is only a grouping of these other individual ideas.
This division can be useful in terms of expressing distinctly separate or unrelated ideas, but our natural world is not as clearly divided as our language suggests it is: the human body can only function due to a series of interlinked organs and blood vessels that are both incredibly specialised, and show better relentless teamwork than the Barcelona team of two years ago, and how does language define it? As ‘arteries’ and ‘motor neurones’; the natural chemistry of the human body also doesn’t fit into the concept of language, and so in order to explain how neurones transfer information, we have to use all of these bloody words to represent an action the human body does anyway, and understands, with no words.
Perhaps this is why people struggle so much without modern technology, if they’re used to it, as it reflects language: the world of technology is easily divided up into the ‘monitor’, and the ‘CPU’ and the ‘fan’ and the ‘modem’, in just the same neat ways language divides up our understanding of the much more interlinked natural world.
Language also divides us from each other: can you speak French? Nope, and he can’t speak English, so good luck communicating! A friend of mine posted this insightful piece into the difficulties of living in the UK without being able to speak English, clearly showing different languages to totally divide people.
Also, this is a division and a disadvantage that is no-one’s fault; a child moving to a new country will struggle to fit in, not because they are poor linguists or anything, but because they are different; Hell, the kid could be the next Shakespeare in their own country, but over here they’re pretty much illiterate.
Language also divides us from our ideas, an idea which I will now proceed to explain with language (my brain hurts). To explain and discuss concepts about religious purpose, social roles, political structures and moral judgements, we must use language, as it’s the most comprehensive means we have of expressing these things; but its not perfect. As well as the obvious language barrier problems, all of these terms need to be defined: ‘morality’ is subjective, or is it objective and derived from an omnipotent being’s teaching? Does purpose differ from societal role in practice, and if it differs in theory, what is the point if that theory will never be realised?
The only way to rationalise all of these theoretical concepts and ideas is to break them up into smaller, more manageable scratchings on paper, but everyone’s scratchings will differ from each other’s! And them we have to go through the rigamarole of defining every bloody term we use to discuss everything, and it is this need to define that I find essays occasionally tiresome to write, as my definition of the criteria I’m analysing may change as I’m discussing it, or read, as it can be hard to understand a definition of a term that differs from your definition.
However, there’s no real alternative; short of a physic link between all people, in which every observable facet of life is presented both concisely and accurate in its reflection of the complexities of life, and we are all free to define every term as we see fit, and have this definition explained to and accepted by all others in the blink of an eye, we’re gonna have to stick with a language. There’s a reason why great insight and intelligence are stereotypically presented as being linked to some mental, word-free form of communication in every sci-fi, fantasy and kids show ever.
That being said, language has become necessary in our culture: as said above, the increase in the cruciality of technology, and its inherent division, in our society means that language is, arguably, more important than ever; and not just perfect grammar either, language is a fluid, developing thing that changes over time. Like a very old jelly slipping down an awkward and stolen metaphor; Twitter is a means of communication based entirely around language and the Tweet-speak that has developed as a result of the website’s popularity.
Our culture is one of defined ideas, and reactions to them, and language offers the best means to express anything as clearly was we want to; it’s not perfect to try to explain Marxist communism in words as everything is always lost in translation: the translation from Marx’s mind to his Communist Manifesto, to modern-day interpretations of it that are opinionated. However, the flexibility of language means that, although occasionally tiresome, we can define any idea how we want to, and explain it as fully as we want, and for that, I am very grateful for this insanely flawed concept.
Also, I like studying stuff that makes sense on the surface, then doesn’t just below the surface, then suddenly seems relevant again the closer you get to the core. This is why I fraking love language.
This post was partially inspired by a single sentence from my awesome Year Twelve English teacher, who is now sadly teaching at another school. Yes, he was so cool that I’ve developed a thousand-word post from just one of his statements.
– Synapses! (GCSE Biology to the rescue!)
– Izzy’s blog post about moving to the UK (a blogger whose points are actually insightful and relevant, unlike my nonsense)