On Language and Ideas

Once when I was young,naive and thought knowledge acquisition wasn’t that big a deal I had an immense wish of being a polyglot. Initially the wish was purely to impress people by talking in languages they don’t understand and hence don’t have a right to judge. Later on I started realising how switching between two languages seemed to have an effect on  my personality. It got me really interested and resulted in me making several attempts at audio french lessons and duolingo spanish courses.

I think duolingo is breaking up with me
I think duolingo is breaking up with me

So the deal with language is that it’s really important. Like really. Now before you go all “Pish Posh!” while holding that tea cup with your pinky, let me clear it out that I’m not talking solely in terms of communication. Your actions and ideas are so tied down to the extent of lingual capabilities that it can be a certain limiter.

Now the formation of language was a really important part of social evolution. From making grunt sounds to the occasional poo flinging in order to exhibit dismay, we certainly have come a long way. It is to a great extent what has separated us from others in the animal kingdom. Unless you’re a dolphin.

All it wants is your soul!

The birth of the language started with necessity to communicate at a basic level with all the “Me make fire” and “Your wife mine“. As time progressed layers and layers of complexities were added as to express a much more diverse range of emotions. Which led to the much more refined “I have thus created the embers that shall result in the forthcoming inferno” and “Allow me to go forth and acquire your lifelong lady companion“.

But then there was a limit to how much vocabulary grew. Well at least the rate at which it grows, even though there are 4000 words added every year for the english language. The matter here is the storage and retrieval of those words. And that thing responsible is the brain. Which,unless not on psychoactive substance, has a limited capacity. I think an example of how language limits expression is the way we apologise.

Take two instances:

1. You accidentally drop food on your friends shirt

2. You accidentally set your friends house on fire.

Unfortunately for the both the cases you would end us saying the same thing – “I’m sorry!“. Albeit with different inflection and stress (This is completely excluding the arson court trial for the sake of simplicity). We know both the cases have alarmingly different magnitudes of actual heartfelt apologising. But due to the nature of the usage of that word, and it’s frequency… it loses some meaning. Say there was a word for “sorry” reserved for times when shit hits the fan. Let’s call it “Soroshismo“. Just the existence of that word and it’s usage propagates a different meaning as from the usual apology.

“Soroshismo man! I accidentally burnt it all down. Don’t worry, dinner is on me.”

Like consider the german word ‘Kummerspeck’ which means ‘Excess weight gained from emotional overeating‘. Due to the existence of that word the sentiment which it brings along with it shrouds the effect created by explaining it with numerous words. And hence it creates a new mode of expression for that particular feeling. It gives that emotion or expression a separate identity. Which might not seem really important when dealing with semantics, but talking about dealing with expression of a sentiment… it’s a whole new batch of fried bacon for breakfast.

Most Mornings

Consider the case of a made up alien tribe with an underdeveloped language. Let the two people in the tribe be Bob and Alice (legit Alien tribe names). Bob really likes Alice. Bob probably more than likes her. And Bob wants to let it out and make sure Alice gets what he feels. That though is an issue here.

Bob and Alice during happier times

Problem is Bob’s underdeveloped language is binary and can only say either ‘Good‘ or ‘Bad‘. So when Bob actually meets Alice all he conveys is the fact that, well she’s ‘Good‘ (preferably said with a thumbs up or whatever the alien tribe version of it is). Now this would be a lingual constraint(not a sex thing) that many of us might be aware of when we don’t find adequate words to express the real emotion. It’s a frequent phenomena. But now Bob through the frequent usage of ‘good‘ starts getting conditioned that his feelings for Alice might not be some superlative non existent version of ‘good‘. And this lingual conditioning feedback loop results in modification of the intrinsic expression of any idea.

Hence a lot of straightjacket-tearing insane concepts might be pummelled into a mere projection of the intended meaning due to the constraint of language. But then again we coin new terms and as per the current generation abbreviate sentences to form a seemingly coherent concepts and thus the process of evolution continues. YOLO, anyone?

Now this is only a fraction of the topic that I seemed to have covered so far, since Linguistics is an entire department and people have dedicated their lives meanwhile I try to cover it up in an 800 word blog post. As an icing on the cake let me leave you with a picture of a cat. Because the internet.


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