Language – the use of words to convey information, thoughts and feelings – should never be taken for granted.
Our ability to communicate through words not only sets us apart as unique among our fellow creatures on this planet. This ability is so much a part of us that we actually need it. We depend on it on all levels of our psyche – our intellect, our will and our emotions.
We were hard-wired to communicate via words! People who can’t read or write usually are (and feel) disadvantaged. People who can’t see written language or who can’t hear verbal language are more disadvantaged, and those who struggle with the loss of both sight and sound have a mammoth task to learn to communicate. Helen Keller is an example of one such person whose story of overcoming these huge hurdles is very inspiring, but not everyone lacking both senses is so fortunate.
One thing that saddens me about momentous events (such as elections) and potentially world-changing social changes is not only the war with words, but the war ON words as well. What do I mean?
Words are used as weapons of warfare – placards and banners are usually the best outward evidence of this, but this happens at all levels of public communication.
Not only this, but words are sometimes even squeezed out of shape to mean something different than what is meant usually. Old but well-known examples include ‘gay’, which no longer only means ‘cheerful’; and ’straight’, which no longer only means ‘going in the same direction without curve or bend’.
The result of such tactics can cause distrust and disillusionment, because of our enormous dependence on words. We need words to mean what we expect, in order for us to feel secure in that communication.
Here are some examples of our reliance on words:
Children at school spend many hours learning the meaning of words, and are expected to have a good vocabulary by the time they end their years in academia. If children are taught one day that round means circular, and the next day that it means rectangular, you can imagine their confusion.
I’ve recently been reading again about the famed ‘tower of Babel’, in the Biblical book of Genesis, chapter 11. It says, in effect, that God saw a unity amongst the inhabitants of Babel in what was clearly not a good or Godly purpose. Details are sparse on how they were actually going about it, but it tells us that they were attempting to build a tower that would ‘reach to the heavens’. As a result, God suddenly introduced a multitude of languages among those inhabitants, so they could no longer understand each other. As could be expected in the resulting confusion (and some say the word ‘babble’ comes from that event), the people soon left, and the project was abandoned.
Have you even been to a busy international airport? I’ve been to the Los Angeles airport only once, many years ago, and that really is a big and busy airport. My usual experience is of much smaller international airports. Being immersed in the continual chatter of many languages with which you are unfamiliar, sometimes loudly near you, can be quite overwhelming. The babble of languages certainly contribute to the feeling that airports are a world of their own; each a microcosm of the globe.