Words, Words, Words.

It always intrigues me when someone tags something with a single word–usually a noun or adjective that’s not a name, or is it? Wittgenstein and other philosophers have puzzled over language, how it shapes our thoughts, how shapes the way we see the world, how it can even be limiting. Language allows us to express thoughts but philosophers have said it can also limit our thoughts. The most pessimistic say that it can even be a mental prison, and while different languages can express different perspectives the best we can ever do is change cells. But a single word can also inspire thoughts, can, at the very least, make us look around and a single word, without context, can open up meanings.

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  1. Gilly Maddison

    That’s a very interesting and disturbing perspective on language. I had never considered the notion that language could be limiting to us but now that I have, it seems so obvious – can’t believe I have never seen it before really. I’m sitting here now, deep in thought about the difference between speaking and communication.

    Because if we didn’t have the ability to communicate with words, we would have to do it another way. Body language is fine, but on one level, we decode it in thoughts based on words. But do we decode body language subliminally on an instinctive level before the word driven thoughts kick in? Sign language is based on spoken language I suppose – but what if we had never developed words? Would we still have developed a kind of sign language and what would be it’s basis? Quirky video – catchy!

    How would we think if we didn’t have words to chase around inside out heads? Has the use of words made us more analytical and less instinctive in life? Negative mind chatter is so destructive – so what if we didn’t have that ability? Thank you for stimulating my mind this morning!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s Wittgenstein for you. He had a pretty bleak perspective and discouraged his students from studying philosophy because he knew how it can wreck you mentally. And this was decades before Steve Martin said the same thing, questioning whether it was ethical to yell “Theater!” in a crowded fire, but that’s another story.
      The question of how we’d think if we didn’t have words, though, is more than a chicken-or-egg question. It’s like a giant ouroboros, except even that’s misleading because it’s a metaphor and metaphors require language. I always feel a twinge of regret whenever I bring these things up because linguistics, semantics, philology, and the deconstruction thereof always lead me down a very dark rabbit hole. It’s not dark as in depressing but rather dark as in I find myself stumbling around with no clue where I’m going or which way is up.

      Reply

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