Posts tagged ‘Linguistic Limitations’

June 3, 2012

Language and Communication

“No, It took me forty years.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

Language is a system of rules by which people communicate and share information. It is essentially a system of shared symbols that are agreed upon by individuals using said language to be associated with a certain experience. For example, the word “dog” symbolizes the concept of a dog, which most english speakers would understand. This underscores a limitation of language, in that insofar as a certain experience is not shared between two speciments, that experience is not able to be transferred from a subject to another subject via communicable symbolic expressions.

Another aspect of language is the transformability of the medium. Human languages do not just name concepts through individual symbolic forms, but transcend concepts through their use of symbolic utterances, the use of which allows any number of usually fixed symbols to be further modified by the association with and invokation of other symbolic modifiers. An example of this would be the use of an adjective such as “grey” to modify the word “dog”. It should also be emphasised that the symbolic meaning of a phrase, term, or utterence is not permanently fixed, but rather flexible due to the ability of additional meanings to be grafted onto a symbolic representation through association.

The capacity for the digestion and association of symbolic items depends very much on gesticulation on the part of the speaker through which the symbolic term is first introduced, thus underscoring the need for context and shared attention between the language user and the language learner. The simplest example might be that of a parent presenting a toy to a toddler and slowly enunciating the name of said toy. For the symbolic association to be understood by the toddler, the toddler must focus on the ball, understand that the parent is focusing on the ball, and associate this focus with the simultaneous experience of the auditory sensory organ hearing the name of the toy. Once the symbolic meaning is understood and reinforced through usage, the child is then able to communicate the experience of the ball at times when the ball might not be present.

Of course, the power of symbolic association lies not just in the ability to reproduce experiences previously understood and communicated, but also in the ability of anyone possessing a grasp on language to utilize the symbols now apropriated for the generation of new concepts which can then be understood by other speakers through decomposition of the symbolic utterances so arranged in the new order spoken.

This new ability of creating new concepts through the reuse of old symbols has not only a practical use, but also may be used to stimulate enjoyment and entertainment through the creation of novelty. This novelty thrives on new images, and thus new and innovative uses and compositions of symbolic terms, all of which depend on the same basic emotions and experiences that have plagued man since time immemorial, which may help explain the tendency for the most powerful and innovative artworks to utilize themes and experiences that are not only considered old, but practically ancient and primal in their nature.

At the same time, however, there is also the possibility for any shared experience, no matter how traditional or old, to fade from the collective consciousness after a period of long inactivity. Such is the result in societies that have experienced lengthy periods of peace, and can be seen in a decline of artistic forms shed reference to war. Shared cultural experience is necessary for comunicative cohesion. Of course, this results in the creation of an incredibly opaque and impenetrable vernacular amongst isolated societies such as can be exemplified in such states as, for example, Japan. In order to penetrate such symbolic systems that have grown so far apart from symbolic systems elsewhere, it is necessary to utilize to their fullest extent any points of connection, no matter how weak, between the culture one currently resides in and the culture whose vernacular and idiom one hopes to understand and eventually master.

In conclusion, language is a set of symbols that are used as an abstraction mechanism in order to facilitate the transfer of ideas, concepts, and experiences from one individual to another. Language has power not just in the transfer of old ideas, but also in the creation of new ideas. This power, however, is only effective to the extent that the speaker and listener come from a similiar cultural background and context. It can thus be said that first contact between humans and any extraterrestial space-faring race will probably be difficult, to say the least.

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