Sunday, July 14, 2013


Language is a funny thing. It really isn't "out there" somewhere, yet we all use it. It is a cultural thing, really. Words mean things because we all treat them as meaning things--we use them like they mean things, so they do. Imagine someone said something like "the sea is very red today." Now, perhaps the sea is literally the color red, but it is also possible that the speaker is referring to a battle that occurred that day at sea where many people died, thus "red" refers to blood which, in turn, refers to loss of life, and the sea turning the color implies the large amounts. Now, imagine you are talking to someone and they begin to talk about how they are bothered by someone else: they are always saying such-and-such, which this person finds awful. Perhaps, though, you see nothing wrong with that person's position, and even see no difference between it and ideas that the first person has advocated in the past.

Maybe these two people really agree, but they see the concept in such different light, and thus describe it completely differently; or maybe they really do have opposing views, but they have such different views on the world that the descriptions look much the same without a good deal of the underlying conceptual context.

Now, you have no idea what underlying context other people are working with. Even people you know well may switch what they are talking about without you realizing it, sometimes. So there is a good possibility that what they are saying and what you are hearing diverge.

Beyond this, different people may use different words in different ways. Everyone does this, using different words in slightly different ways given different contexts (consider the love of persons versus the love of food). There are also the many possibilities of creative use of language, for example, wordplay or neologisms.

So, let's say that someone says something that makes no sense to you. Can you really say that it is nonsense? Can you be sure (without asking them and their saying that it is)? Perhaps you just don't understand how they are seeing things such that what they said means something. There are haves and have-nots, why can't I say "I want to have." and leave the sentence there? Surely I can make transitives intransitive, intransitives transitive, noun verbs, verb nouns, and on, and on, and on.

So, now, what about communicating? Maybe I want you to get some point, but it's one of those things we all say, so, even though you don't understand, you will think you do if I say it normally. So maybe I say it in such a way that you have to think. Really, ideally, I learn your dialect well enough to say it differently enough from how you would think to say it, or so that I can make you tell me it in such a way that I hear that you get it.

But how do you say things strangely while still saying them? This is the trick of writing. Especially of writing philosophy or theology or anything else where you're trying to get across points about how one sees the world. Often, you cannot read a thing right until you understand it right.

No comments:

Post a Comment