Friday, January 18, 2013

On Language

From my weekly comments for Honors Colloquium:
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
–George Orwell, 1984

This week’s readings and discussion centered on the idea of language. We did not discuss language itself, which we would call semantics; rather, we centered on language as a concept. What species have it? What forms does it take? Into what form do we shape language and how does our language, in turn, shape our society? It was strange to think of language as an idea, as opposed to a universal constant. Having not considered language before, again rather than semantics, I found our discussion to be interesting and enlightening, and the readings even more so.

Americana was a word in contention on our first day of class. What did it mean? What could it mean? How do people use it in everyday life, and to contrast, how do people use the word in certain market sectors? The answers to each were different and all of our answers only halfway matched the official definition. It was an interesting lesson in both semantics and an example of how language shapes our thoughts towards the world, even as we shape language.

Language seems to be an ordinary miracle for able-bodied human beings. We take it for granted and think nothing of it, when we deign to think of it at all. We seem to be so busy criticizing the dancing technique of the bear that we forget to marvel at the fact that the bear can dance at all. No matter; I am glad to be a dancing bear, no matter how badly I may do so.

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