Conversations, Essay, Reflections

A Conversation with the Other About: Language…

 

A Conversation with the Other About:

Language

Other: Well… This is a rather large topic area! Any chance you want to narrow it down?

L: Sure! If I had some idea where I wanted to go with this. But I don’t. So I guess we’ll both be surprised… <grin>

O: All right, then… <grinning back> Maybe if you start with what prompted this discussion…?

L: Fair enough… Actually, I don’t think it was any one thing specifically, but rather several smaller things taken in at roughly the same time. And when I looked at them all together, the only common denominator seemed to be language…

Although, to be fair, the first desire for this conversation began with the title “…About: Hope and Other Words of Questionable Value”…

Changing it to “Language” in general seemed a more productive path to take…

O: Umm… <hesitating> Why would you consider “hope” a word of questionable value? It seems to me to be a very valuable concept…

L: <laughing> Indeed! And therein lies my problem. Because spending some time thinking about it proved that wasn’t necessarily true…

Or maybe that’s not a fair statement. The concept itself might prove valuable, for certainly it serves a purpose, but as a word it is overused and somewhat meaningless, as are many other words we rely on…

O: Umm… <slightly baffled> You might need to explain that for me. After all, you are the writer, and words are very important to you as such, so to hear you disparaging them in such a way confuses me. Especially a pleasant word like “hope.”

L: Exactly my point, dear friend!!! That’s why I needed to talk to you!

O: All right… So I’m here. I’m listening. Perhaps we’d best start with you talking at me, though, since I have no idea what you are talking about…

L: <smiling> Sounds like fun!

Ok, so there I was, thinking about “hope,” trying to define it in a way that made sense to me. And I wound up confusing myself… Because “hope” is a word like “being” (which we’ve already beaten to death in our conversations <chuckle>), in that it is both noun and verb simultaneously…

As a noun, “hope” seems valuable; something we’d all strive for or wish to have. In fact, it might be safe to say that hope is desire, or at least the “wanting” of something…

But as a verb, it is a much more nuanced word, for it can run the gamut between ultimate potential and dismal delusion, as a tool to create or destroy, as a means to uplift or depress a spirit. And that seems counter-intuitive to me, for “hope” should always be a “good” thing, shouldn’t it?

O: Keep going… I’m following you so far…

L: Good! <smiling> So it occurred to me that “hope” is an empty word, in and of itself, sometimes trite, sometimes central to a theme, but empty of any intrinsic value of its own. And it’s not alone in that, as there are many such words just like it, that have “value” only in the context they are in, or in the purpose behind their use; yet the words themselves are held in high esteem as though they had value themselves…

O: Examples?

L: Shit! I knew you were going to ask that…

Ok, how about “light,” another seemingly positive word, with deep archetypal roots, and both noun and verb simultaneously?…

Or even “love”?

And on the flip side we have words like “fear,” “anger,” “doubt,” “guilt” and “shame.”

All of these words carry heavy connotative weight, draw their relative power from the archetypal reservoir of a collective unconscious, and serve as both nouns and verbs simultaneously. And all of them are meaningless and value-less outside of context and purpose, being overused and under-owned or understood…

O: But isn’t that true of all words? Language itself is interpretive, subjective, abstract…

L: Exactly!

O: <somewhat bemused> And your point?

L: <genuinely amused now> My point? Simple…

It isn’t real! None of it is real!

O: Umm… <genuinely confused now> Of course not…? It’s language… Words are not “real.” Ever…

L: <nodding emphatically> Yes, exactly! “The word is not the thing.” We know this. Words are abstractions, and therefore removed from reality. The general semanticists showed that with their “ladder of abstraction”; and the higher-order words (further removed from reality) have even less substance than lower-order words. And all of that is what makes language work!

O: Then what, exactly, are we discussing? Or should I ask, what are we discussing this for?

L: Because it is that very fact, that tenuous connection to reality, that gives language its power, while simultaneously stripping it of value!…

O: Elaborate?

L: <grinning mischievously> Afraid to use your words, now? Minimizing their numbers does not affect their quality…

The Other raises an eyebrow in a “not amused” gesture…

L: <laughing> Fair enough, then…

I guess I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I have a generalized sense of direction, so I suppose we should just meander along and see where it leads… Several things come immediately to mind in the wake of this “words are not real” revelation (by which I mean “new layers revealed” not “newly discovered”):

  1. Words as a medium for creating…

  2. Words as an obstacle to creation, and…

  3. Conceptual boundaries created by languages in particular, as well as particular languages…

Anywhere in particular you want to start?

O: Why not start in the beginning?

L: <laughing out loud> Because circles have no beginning…?

O: <laughing, too> Fine! Then just start anywhere, and we’ll know we’re done when we get back to that beginning…

L: Ok then, let’s start with creating…

I love to create, period. And I love to use a variety of media to do so. But my favorite medium by far is language, precisely because of its “unreality,” or some corollary thereof. Because all other media create static creations, while language creates dynamic structures…

O: Explore that a little more for me?

L: Sure! <grinning> I guess what I’m saying is this. If I craft a piece of jewelry, or crochet a baby blanket, or color a picture (my latest go-to hobby), then I have something tangible to show for my efforts. And aside from the passage of time (another conversation entirely), that item will remain the same; hence it is a static creation, real and solid…

But if I craft something with words, it lacks that same level of reality, at least in the sense of being un-changeable. The words themselves might remain the same indefinitely, but the meaning, and the value will alter. Quite frequently, in fact. Not just in the sense of how others interpret it, but in how I do; thus it is a dynamic creation, evolving over time…

And that is possible precisely because of its abstract nature… And precisely why it is my favorite medium…

Whether it’s because I am choosing words that can be purposely interpreted in multiple ways (say as nouns or verbs in the same sentence, like those already discussed), or using homonyms to create metaphors (like “I” and “eye”, for example), language is multi-dimensional, allowing a single piece of work to mean many different things, all at the same time!

And depending on the order they are laid down in, the cadence, rhythm and flow of the work, the connotative connections made, a single piece of writing can become timeless, boundless, and ever-relevant!

It is pure magic!

O: Even if it’s not interpreted that way? I mean, people “hear” what they want or expect to hear; how then can you assure that such depth is accurately perceived?

L: I can’t, of course… I have absolutely no control over how something is interpreted. Nor can I “make” anyone sense the available layers in any given work. But that does not mean they are not there… And that is the paradox here.

Because language isn’t real…

Though it discusses real things…

O: Hmm…

L: Time for a “to be continued”?

O: Yeah, I’m thinking so…

L: Fair enough… We can pick this up another time…

Advertisements
Standard

9 thoughts on “A Conversation with the Other About: Language…

    • Or try “general semantics” as a search term; Weinberg and his cronies developed some fascinating philosophy around language… 😉

      I will try your search term, if you try mine. Lol! (Time permitting, of course, though it is in notoriously short supply these days…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, someone is syphoning off our Time Perceptions- which is kind of odd since it’s not supposed to be there…or is it…Oooh head hurts.
        Anyhows..I will take a look at the Wiki Lisa, and try not to go wandering off on the various links. (You know how it goes…’Oooh interesting– hmm..never knew that..and that link looks good….’ and finally ‘Where did those 2 hours go??’
        Oh, it’s all good stuff though.
        Take care,
        Roger

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love following those links… Sometimes I feel like a horse on a lead, being gently tugged by the nose to explore new areas…

        And sometimes, those side trips lead me far, far away from where I wanted to be… But maybe, exactly, where I need to be… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Umm… so I followed your search term, and found some fascinating stuff, but when I tried to search mine, I got some unexpected results. To begin with Weinberg and his version of the “ladder of abstraction” did not come up. Secondly, the field of general semantics is cast as a branch of neuro-linguistic science and therapy, rather than just a philosophical school. Still interesting, still appropriate, but very different than what I expected…

      Though the wiki section on “major premises” kind of sums it all up pretty well…

      *feeling somewhat baffled now myself…*

      Liked by 1 person

      • …..and there’s that as well…I tried to seek out an explanation for ‘Cache’ in computer terms….they lost me after the tenth word…..
        Wiki-world is interesting and I tip my hat to those who put it together, but sometimes those links and the links that follow on from the links….oh boy!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. An interesting conversation about the meaning of certain words. Some words are relatively safe, like mother, father, brother, tree, spoon. But emotionally charged words are most dangerous, and unreliable. Love is probably the most abused word in the English language. Then probably hope. Then faith. These words carry a sense of solid meaning but step on one and you go right through. They mean whatever society dictates in the moment, or turn that around, whatever the moment (the situation) dictates. They actually mean nothing. But they can get you killed because they front for emotions, not actual things.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s