Demons of Language
Richard, I'm awed by your article on "Love", which relates some interesting points of merit. Your article certainly started me to thinking, and what follows are my thoughts, not just on the concept of “love”, but rather on language perception in general.
Since everything, we, as individuals, think, do, and feel, becomes gray-matter material that runs through a mental computer pairing with and sorting among what we already know; thus, the concept of love becomes so individualistic that it probably has no true globular definition.
We know "love" is an abstract term, and as such, every person who chooses to define it would likely stamp their own personal perception on the description to the point that universally, there would be no true definition outside various points of similarity.
I had the occasion to study linguistics when I was teaching ESOL children during my career days. The fact that language is a personalized endeavor incorporating a person's experiences, as pared with taught morals, beliefs, feelings, education, knowledge, and the continued interest in people and the world at large creates a broad spectrum of meaning for abstract terms such a “love”.
Undoubtedly, the same reasons mentioned above affect communication between people; namely, a man tells his wife he loves her. The word love is not enough for the wife. She needs more from him to demonstrate his love. Her dad gave mom flowers and candy. Or, she has decided that if he really loves her, he will clean the garage, or put off his Saturday golf game to take her to a special event she wants to attend, etc. One can infer this as manipulation—yet, it reflects the individualistic views on “love” as derived from one’s personal perceptions and related through language discourse.
Personally, I think our society is in a communication “war” of sorts because we have grown away from the rural society where family, survival, and hard work were the topics of conversation of the period. Now, with the great forward movement toward educating our children, the boom in the knowledge industry, the ever-increasing experiences of mankind in a constantly changing society, peoples’ language skills have reached a push-button stage of sensitivity where they guard their experiential perceptions and beliefs with frequent defenses when another’s ideas conflict with their own. In some respects, we can equate the use of language as putting us all in a war zone volatile with the possibility of sudden eruption of unexpected reactions in a negative sense.
One might aptly accuse language as the culprit to most of our problems in society today. (We know language is the fuse that has started wars.) Change has accelerated faster than man can keep up with it. We seem to be living just on the edge of constant change, and have become internalized within our own little family group setting, which weaves a wall of protection around our homes and immediate family.
Even in tight-knit families, language plays a tremendous role in the makeup of the families’ interactions. It can seep in like an unwanted stranger to disrupt our lives---even though most of us would liken problems to actions instead of language. Yet, all deeds, actions—and arguments—are the output of thoughts, and consequently, words or some acting out of words.
For example, Father goes off to work, hears and sees how others think, believe, feel, and do. Mother goes off to work, hears and sees how others think, believe, feel, and do. Children go off to school and learn something through teachers or peers different from their own way of life. Each of these family members experience the budding growth of language absorbed through others’ actions and their differing ideas, perceptions, influences, which inevitably contribute to and/or alter their own interests, beliefs, and perceptions. Families who do not have a strong moral base might very well think it necessary to change the direction of how they do things or interact, and such diversity can cause dissension in an otherwise peaceful home.
Another example: A husband says, “My friend’s wife has a cocktail waiting for him when he comes home from work, and dinner on the table.” Mom, chasing after her three little children in between household chores, looking frazzled and ready to drop, probably relates some fairly strong language of her own. (Expectations, gained through another source by the husband, and his method of language expression, has generated ire—big time.)
Our society has certainly passed the period of “live and let live”. Now, people of different cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, and beliefs are distorting democratic freedoms through basically saying, “believe and think as I do, or your ideas are all wrong.” We see this concept carried out through our governments’ deletion of “In God we Trust” from all documents and sources affiliated with government. (Yes, there is a clause in the constitution about the separation of religion and state, but we lived for more than 200 years without it becoming a problem, so why now?) Language!
I have learned that to maintain friendship with anyone, I must ever be careful of what I say, and/or how I say it. I must gage my every word against what I already know about that person. Even a simple accidental error in language diplomacy can bruise feelings and egos so easily (and badly), as to shatter friendships. If a person is prone to envy, the most innocent of statements can easily push a button and you don’t even realize it until the damage is done. If a person is prone to jealousy, the mere mention of someone’s name can set off the green demon inside them. If a person thinks another is more knowledgeable than they are, never make a suggestion of any sort because they are going to think you’re degrading their intelligence. (I use these examples broadly because in no way do they apply to all persons, but certainly they do apply to many)
Is this push-button mentality due to people becoming internal and introspective in measuring their own values and worth? Is it because they feel threatened by external “other” influences that differ from their own, which rock their ego foundations? Or, is it because our world structure is threatened by the increasing cultural diversions infiltrating what we know and are familiar with, thus effecting our language base and the way we communicate through our perceptive and internal beliefs?
Everything people say and do creates language. Since the USA, in particular, has become entirely diverse, just driving from one community to another is like going into an entirely foreign setting. Each community is trying to bottle up ideas and beliefs in tight little pods until a “belief” system of segregation exists that drives people farther and farther apart. I have found that I communicate best with people who were born about the same time as I was---not because they are in my age group---but rather because they hold the same beliefs that were fairly widespread, constant, and inherent during our formative years.
This subject has no end, so I will stop here, knowing I have just introduced a very controversial subject and hopefully one that will make readers ponder on the thoughts I’ve introduced. I don’t validate anything I say with anything more than my opinion; therefore, since opinions beget other opinions, I invite yours freely.
One additional comment: I do believe that there is a great need for research into linguistic studies according to how they affect mankind and society in today’s world with respect to the inclusion of many different cultures and beliefs. If we are going to avoid civil wars among ourselves, I believe language understanding is the key to it all.
Now, I invite your comments.
© 3/2007 Jeanette Cooper