Language as a way of knowing

“Man is the animal that speaks. Understanding language is thus the key to understanding man” – Thomas Szasz

My mother always told me, what differentiates us from other animals is our ability to communicate with words. Not only express our hunger, our desires, our anger, but also discuss our troubles, share, and create art (I’m thinking of literature, theater, lyrics of a song…). Realizing how useful and beautiful the language of words is represents the first step towards creating masterpieces with it.

ARTS: In what ways can the arts be considered the language if human emotions?

I do believe this very badly. With art we express ourselves, and since language=art, we are all artists of our own kind. It is proven to me every day that there is beauty in the most unexpected persons if we listen to how they express it. Of course, we cannot unconditionally love everyone and we cannot love all of their human emotion or all of their art. But it doesn’t cost that much to listen. Also, I believe that arts, and therefore language, are men’s redemption from all our atrocities.


How would you try to explain to a blind person what the word RED means? What does this suggest to you about the limitations of definitions? We could not consistently define colors to a blind person. We could always say: red is the color of fire and the color of blood, but this wouldn’t be very relevant if you have never seen either of those. We could try explaining that red is a warm, energetic color, but so are pink, orange, yellow. The limitations of definitions come from the limitations of language itself. Words have restrictions. This article, referring to Chaplin movies, suggests that sometimes words are irrelevant and there is nothing most meaningful than gestures:

Many jokes are based on ambiguity…can you give an example? “Glass Center visitors go through the roof” [Sunderland Echo, August 2006]

What would be the advantages  and disadvantages of everyone in the world spoke a common language? What would be gained and what would be lost? Attempts to invent a new international language from the ground up have been seen before. The most famous one is probably Esperanto (“the hoping one”) in 1887 by Dr. Zamenhof. It was meant to wipe away issues such as racism and misunderstanding between ethnic groups. But beyond this noble reasoning, would it not kill the marvel of cultural differences?

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How much could you know about the world if you had no language or means of communicating with other people? The problem with not having any language of any kind would be that we would have to figure it all out by ourselves. It would be dramatic. Language is knowledge and knowledge is power. Without a language to pass our history on to the next generation we would have no roots and be left with only our own perception of the world.

To what extent is your use of languages accompanied by images? Does every word conjure up an image or only some of them? It seems that we all have an image in for words, physical or ideological, that we have encountered before in real life situations. I’m thinking of liberty, that doesn’t have a particular image attached to it an is subject to interpretation, and personally I always picture this Delacroix painting called “La Liberté guidant le Peuple”:


Do you think communication would be improved if we got rid of vague words?  Do you think vague or ambiguous words sometimes serve a purpose? There is no way we can get rid of vague words because all words are vague. We have all experienced, for example, reading the description of a scene in a novel and seeing it turned into a movie, and the difference is drastic: because we all perceive the words in a different way, even simple words like table: one might picture a long ebony table with sculpted feet that could be a piece in a museum; someone else might imagine a simple round kitchen table. The fact that it is ambiguous doesn’t serve a particular purpose, it it just the result of our interpretations.


  • Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language :

“It’s only ugly because it’s new and you don’t like it”. This video actually reconciles me with an idea that, for a long time, I have debated with myseslf. Should I  fight for what I learned was the ‘proper language’ or let it evolve and accept it? But the truth is, it will evolve if you accept it or not, so we probably should be more open to these new words and not be afraid of the change.

  • Stephen Fry interview – Fry’s planet word:

“I hope that people will stop taking for granted what I think is the greatest gift we have”. This interview covers most of the points I had in this post! Amazing that he has such knowledge of how wonderful language is. And I believe as well that knowing how to manipulate words can bring you anywhere – politics, show buisness, literature, everything.

  • Stephen Fry discussing swear words with Graig Ferguson:

Indeed, it is odd that the words that qualify our most beautiful actions are used in a way that seems more terrible than torture, cruelty and so on. And yet if we think of it, it could make sense; in making those words a commonplace we convince each other that it is less awful than it is.


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