Language is the much underrated and unappreciated creation that carries the world on its shoulders.
Why did I say that sentence? How does language carry the world on its shoulders? How is it underrated and unappreciated? Why is the fact that it is a ‘creation’ important?
The answers to the first few questions are very simple. Language is a channel for communication and communication is the bedrock on which civilisation and society exist. In fact, in the absence of a form of communication, society would not be possible. Therefore, it is language that carries the world on its shoulder. From everyday interactions to international diplomatic councils and committees, language is at the foundation of chatter, conflict, collaboration, and everything that makes the world what it is today.
When language is so significant to the world that we live in, then why did I call it underrated and unappreciated? The answer is simple. While one slight glimpse into the functions and politics of language is enough to show its importance, we oftentimes take it for granted. Very rarely does a person delve into the significance and nuances of language and when one does it is usually more for academic purposes than anything else. However, when one does begin thinking about it, for whatever reason, they are exposed to a rabbit hole that on the one hand explains various complexities of humankind but at the same time raises even more questions and doubts. Above all, it exposes the arbitrariness of everything and sometimes even triggers an existential crisis over something that comes as naturally to us as breathing.
Coming to the aspect of viewing language as a creation, I would like to quote our beloved Lord of Thunder, Thor, from the movie Avengers: Infinity War, “all words are made up”. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone even though very few actually think about it (and then usually go down a downward spiral of existentialism and “everything is a lie”, but let’s not go there). But the fact remains that language isn’t something that was bestowed upon humankind (or even other living beings that communicate with each other) through a force whose existence is highly debatable and that language isn’t something that is rigid, static, and set in stone (even though it has often been carved and painted over it) and is in fact extremely dynamic and even subjective.
That language was created for the ease of communication is clear, but it is also significant to remind ourselves that contrary to what Through the Looking Glass‘s Humpty Dumpty would have us believe, language cannot be completely arbitrary. Language is dynamic, subjective, ever-evolving and constantly changing, but at the end of the day all these changes, variations, and differences are brought about by a group of people. One person cannot arbitrarily makeup language without explaining it to others and expect it to serve its function (unless the function is to confuse the person you’re communicating with, in which case, way to go). Language at the end of the day remains a means to an end, the end being expression and communication. It is for this reason that language can never be an individual activity and in order to transfer meaning, at least one other person should know the rules and intricacies involved. Language, thus, is a means of communication and expression, that is built up of rules that have been agreed upon by a group of people.
However, as the group of people evolve, grow, and change, so do the rules of language. Old English is different from Medieval English, which is different from modern English. Same is true for every other language. Meanings, both denotative and connotative, change over time. Not only do languages change, but some languages die while new are born, and in certain cases, revived. Languages, then, are very much like living beings.
To understand language, is to understand the society in which it is spoken. This is without even going into the politics of multiple languages and their relations with each other, which is perhaps a topic for another day. From it’s connotative and denotative meanings to its dialects, from its history to its potential future, the world of language is a complex one and should never be taken for granted.