"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Language I: Views on the Creation and Evolution of Language

Well ya'll, good morning. Here I am to talk about language. What we speak. It's interesting that at least in recorded history there has not been a constant language. All language seems to be to some degree in a flux, never exactly solidifying. Dictionaries are only effective because this flux, or evolution of the language is slow enough for a dictionary composed twenty years ago to be 99.9% accurate. The debate over whether language is dependant on how people use it, or whether people's use of language is dependant on the language itself is similar to that of the chicken or the egg being the first in existence (I personally am for the chicken). To define the question to a greater extent, we can ask, did someone create a highly effective, communicative form of verbal sounds, or did people create the system through practical use of it?
If the former is true, then any evolution of the language is not at all beneficial, rather it allows for compromises and time-savers that will eventually devolve into a mess of subjective words, each with multiple meanings depending on how they are applied, lacking any definite (see the relation to definition) meaning to back them up. Theoretically, the English language could end up like a bad sci-fi movie I saw a few years ago. It was about this tribe of sun worshippers on a Lost Worldesque island, and had lots to do with all blonde girls being sacrified to the huge pit at a certain age, and running away from dinosaurs, and people being eaten by giant pitcher plants, etc, etc. The language of these natives included a one word vocabulary: "Akida."
"Akida." -- "Block of wood."
"Akiida." -- "You look cute in that loincloth, Bob."
"Akida, Akida." -- "Look what I found, a Bronchiosaurus."
"Akida! (Akida, Akida)" -- "A blonde girl, come on, let's throw her into the pit."
"Akidaaaaaa!!!!" -- "Ow, I'm being eaten by a giant pitcher plant."

I think our one word might end up being "like" "yeah" "Uuuh" or something similar. One never can tell, though.
All humor aside this does lead us to some interesting questions. If meddling with the language is bad, then what about all those colloquialisms, turns of phrase, and quotes that enrich it so much. If I say "I'll be back," it means one thing literally, and another completely different. I've never seen the Terminator (my wonderfully smart and kind, but rather forgetful history proffessor called it the Terminal Man), but I've heard and used that phrase many times. I have read that the infamous affirmative and/or positive "ok" came from a presidential campaign around the beginning of the twentieth century. He was called Old Krakenbury, and his campaign ads said "He's O.K." so much that the phrase caught. These phrases are localized, so people around the world may not understand them, even if they have learned the literal meanings of the words in the language (unless of course you add the new words, as some modern dictionaries have done). Many old or foriegn turns of phrase have been lost to general knowledge. Reading a five hundred year-old European legend is difficult. At times you come accross a combination of words you understand, but which have no meaning to you in that combination. There is also the obvious presence of words that, while they had definite, literal meanings at the time, now have none at all. These are clearly arguments against allowing or encouraging language evolution, but colloquialisms greatly enrich culture and language. Some might argue that the localization of such phrases breeds isolationism and racism. I believe I could take the legs out from under these same people using their own words against them, but I won't try, because what it comes down to is that if this does cause racial prejudice, it shouldn't, and brings about benefits that greatly outway any side effects. In addition, the fact is that anyone reading this could probably not walk to my house in a days time. Many probably could not in a week's time. Yet here you are reading it, if anyone is, that is. With today's advancements in communication, colloqiallisms are spread not among towns or provinces, but accross entire nations and languages. There still are bounds, outside of which such phrases are rarely used (as far as I know, only Australians use Aussie expressions with any regularity). So the sense of national identity, important so long as there are more than one nations, remains strong. In some areas that is true down to provinces, but to a lesser degree. One may not speak the colloquialisms of the northern U.S., but one still knows them.
So this refinery, or panache on languages is one argument against the idea of a foundationally correct language that decays over time.
The latter view is in touch with the times. It embraces the following ideas: 1) we are getting better. Everything we do is leading to progress. Everything we are involved in is progressing. We are becoming better people than our ancestors could have been. We are Evolving. See the premise of X-men, the negative light thrown on the Intelligent Design group, etc. 2) language was invented by our ancestors. We know better now than they did then. Besides, we are not the same type of human that they were. Species are transient. They are in flux, and so language should also be in flux to suit them. Each new species of homo sapiens needs a new species of language to speak. This sounds a little extreme, but it is the logic behind the inclusion of new definitions of phrases such as "shut up" (now meaning "you're kidding" as an alternative to "close your mouth"), introduced through television, advertisement, laziness on the speaker's part, etc. Laziness, that sounds negative. But isn't that one of our goals? To be able to do things with more ease? What is wrong with automatic dishwashers, instant mail delivery over the internet, instant communication, better cleaners, more services to hire, automated industry, mathematics, agriculture, etc. Labor is now being thrown more and more into the areas of research, development, and quality management, in a sense trying to cut back on itself.
A paraphrased scene from the Jetsons: having joined the army, George and another private soon get into trouble and are assigned mess duty. They lie sweating and gasping against a chrome wall.
"Oh, man, I didn't know the army would be this hard," wheezes George.
"Nope. They're merciless," replies his friend.
"Well, let's get it over with." George reaches up and presses a button on the wall. His friend presses another. Mechanical arms appear, collect the dishes and silverware, dunk them in sinks and begin washing them. George and his friend collapse from fatigue.
As communication proceeds towards ease, one might also think it would proceed towards clarity. It's easiest to say what you mean than to beat around the bush. Clarity focuses, combines doubles, makes smaller, simpler, plainer, more obvious, more clear, more easy to understand. This view of language predicts that if one word is used in the future, it will be a word alowing perfect communication. After all, who wouldn't want to say Ukida and be done with it? No more spelling, no more complicated keyboards, etc. Once the human mind progresses to a point where it can use a single word to communicate anything and everything, then both communication and ease will be fulfilled.
So those are the two ideas on language. One fellows entropy: language was created "perfect", whatever that may mean, and is gradually falling into chaos. The other ascends towards perfection of language. More later?
One last thing. I was reminded by my dear older sister that U-k-i-d-a is an incorrect spelling. I have replaced it with A-k-i-d-a, the correct and proper word. My apologies.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! So i was going to read the whole thing...but then i realized it really was rather long...lol. and then i caught sight of the words "Ukida! (Ukida, Ukida)" -- "A blonde girl, come on, let's throw her into the pit." and i was like ummmmmmmmm...so yeah. i'm glad you've got ur blog going...type away. it really is rather thereputic. lol. lata


A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.