Josh and myself were having a constructive conversation about the topic of the next blog post in his A to Z series. Having to do with a title starting with the letter “U”, I threw out the line “Ubiquitous Indecision”. It led immediately into a discussion about existentialism and the felt fact of living life as though we are always in a state of indecision due to the fact that we can never really decide everything for all time. Then it turned just as abruptly to language and its role in society.
Keeping true to our respective philosophical roots we both had an idea about the ends of language, yet approached it from functionally different sides. As I tend to focus more upon usage and utility of ideas than their meaning, I led off with the idea that language ought to be thought of as communicative, and that being communicative having to use separate languages was fruitless. Having to practice and become comfortable with radically different grammatical and phonetic forms to express a similar idea would take too much time and too much effort if all we wish to do is increase the linkage between one’s mind and another set of minds. The idea that got this going was one expressed in the children’s show Word Girl:
“It’s not the size of the word that matters,
it is whether it is the right word at the right time”
This really got me thinking when I was a teenager as to what exactly we think of language. Is it the case that the audience dictates the size of the words? I thought not as we cannot know what would be appropriate until we actually use the word we intend. What then could it be? Do we want to get a meaning across. Certainly we do. But it seems that no matter how much we intend to mean, something always gets lost in even the best transmissions of meaning.
This lead me to my idea that language is meant to confer a meaning, but that meaning is not language itself. Language was and is a means to communicate a meaning. The end of the act of speech is to confer a meaning, The end of a language is to communicate.
The distinction between the act of speech and the existence of language gave a problem of accounting for time. Would it in fact be the case that we should optimize the transfer of meaning and not communicate unless we have the best of all possible methods of communicating? Again, the concept from word girl lent me and idea. “The right word at the right time“. Brilliant. That gave me an out to posit a practical advantage to not learning new phonetics and grammar ever time we wish to communicate something a different language has better. We can simply use it to save time, and pronounce only that word if we wish in that language’s particular accent without having to sacrifice our natural grammar to do so.
The transcription of a word from one grammatical context to another has the added benefit of standing out. “What does this person mean when they say ‘guima-yerpe’?” That question offers the chance for an explanation and a chance for another word to pop up that could be considered a more natural fit for whichever language you happen to be speaking. Explaining that “guima-yerpe” means to blog about the sublimation of a word from one grammar system to another without losing its meaning might lead one to develop an in-language word for such an action. Such as consolidated-meaning-blogging, or consomeaniblogging. Or say, changing the pronunciation from the natural grammar setting to the adopted grammar setting. Instead of Guima-yerpe it could become gi-me-yer-piece. Or some such thing.
None of the add-ons seem to destroy the idea of language having a tendency towards communication. Nor does it usurp the place of meaning in conversation. It is simply that language qua language does not care in the end about the meaning of a phrase, only whether it is communicated effectively.