Language: An Interpretation Part Five:
I had a discussion with a friend last night, and the topic (as it often does) came round to ….. language. It is something that is dear to me, and an activity I derive hours of pleasure (as well as frustration and a gambit of other emotions) from looking at.
Language and word use has become my passion….
Rarely do humans ask themselves where their language(s) came from. To many, it seems, language has always just “been there” French in France, English in England, Chinese in China, Japanese in Japan (and so on). Yet if we look back (even only a few thousand years) we would see that none of these languages were spoken in their respective countries, or in fact existed anywhere in the world.
So where did your language come from? Are all modern languages evolved from a single earlier language? If so, where was this language spoken, and when? (the jury it seems is still out on these questions).
We know that Spanish is simply a later version of the Latin language that was spoken in Rome two thousand years ago. Latin spread with the Roman conquest of Europe and, following the breakup of the Roman Empire, the regional dialects of Latin gradually evolved into the modern Romance languages: Sardinian, Romanian, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese. A language family, such as the Romance family, is a group of languages that have all evolved from a single earlier language, (in this case Latin)
But while the Romance family illustrates well the concept of a language family, it is also highly unusual in that the ancestral language —(in this case Latin) — was a written language that (has) left us copious records. The usual situation (the world over it seems), is that the ancestral language was not a written language and the only evidence we have are its modern descendant.
The invention of modern human language (estimated to be about fifty thousand years ago) led to the explosive expansion of modern humans around the globe. It became the expression of everything, the thing that we say sets us apart (often we think above) other species on this planet… but is that really the case (and in fact are we really the only species that “speaks” a language?)
So, why do we use language? This is a question that many probably see as not needing an answer or even a question that needs not to be asked.
We don’t often think about it, but the complexities involved in learning a language are much harder, deeper and far reaching then we might first imagine. Not all things are as easy as we think it is when we witness a child utter their first words. Little does that child understand that that first word uttered holds such a great importance in its life (and others), and that all subsequent words thereafter lay the framework for said child’s existence. Little does one know if it is even language we speak at all.
Whenever we speak of ourselves to another (or ask others to do the same ), we are using language in order to exchange facts and opinions. We think in the manner we do and we express it in our language choices.
But is it wrong to think of it (the way that we speak, the language we use) as the only way(s) in which to use language? Is in fact (to some degree) the language we use when we communicate ideas …. Irrelevant?
You place something on a table, only to have it fall off. You put it back, only to have the same action repeat itself, so you shout at the object. You put something somewhere, but later when trying to retrieve it, you forget where you put it so you begin to yell at it, asking it where it is, or could have gone. Should we classify these as “functions of language”? It is not a communication of ideas , as there is no one else in the room, so what exactly is this type of … language.
One of the most common uses of language is in times of emotional fever. One feels stress, pressure, intense feeling of nervousness and one uses language, one might not otherwise use in everyday situations. This type of language can be used whether or not we are alone. Swear words, words for reactions to beauty in art, scenery, words of affection, words of reaction, words of anger (and so on). “Semi- words” like “gosh”, “gee” or “noise interjections” like “wow” or “ouch”…. are these also to be classified as “language”?
A person sneezes, one replies “bless you”/ “Gesundheit”, and the person replies “thank you” These notions of …. Language… hardly seem to convey/communicate ideas , but rather maintain a comfortable relationship between people. No factual content is involved …. or is there? What if one is not religious, so uttering “bless you” feels weird to that person. Would knowing this change the idea of this from non-content language to content language? While at first glance it may seem to be empty, even the simplest of utterances can have meaning beyond what we could even imagine… if we don’t understand them
In many instances it seems apparent the only reason for the use of language is for the enjoyment the user gains from the sound. Songs, (children’s rhymes especially)would fall into this area, but how many times have you had the thought of “that person just likes to hear their own voice”? Language is a comfort for us at times. A (self) acknowledgment of our existence, our understanding and our expression of all we see, think and know.
Humans often state the obvious (it’s a lovely day), use language as a filler (the weather), or have no content in their language at all (hello). We use language to maintain a friendly relationship between people, arising out of a basic human need we seem to have interact as well as using it as “signals” for things that are (in some ways based on the language you speak) expected of you to say.
Take for example the idea of Hello. A word that is often thought of as… empty. If one does not say hello when entering the home, the interpretation of this could range from thoughts of anger to ignoring to wondering about their day and if the persons reasons for not saying hello could be one of these things (or a variety of others).
Not so simple after all (is this language thing).
We have not spoken at all about the complexities of inter-language communications. Differences can be vast, even in the ideas of the smallest of words (pertaining to how they are used, interpreted and understood and so on) .
The more one looks, the more one sees that language… in all its forms and ways of expression is open to an array of interpretations that could stagger the imagination (if one took time to sit and really think about it)… but whom really wants to take the time? Is there an simpler (faster, abbreviated) way to understand language in all its complexities? Rarely do I think the answer could be yes.
Language is the sum of everything and the whole of nothing.
Language is more complicated then just expressing the words……………
….. so why do we use our languages in ways that reduce it to nothing more than just ……..
HERE ARE A FEW examples of instances where other languages have found the right word and English simply falls speechless.
Russian – “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”
Indonesian– “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”
Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”
Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement”
Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”
Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”
Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”