Friday, August 1, 2014

World of Words

"The limits of your language are the limits of your world." Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1922

I discovered this quote in one of my notebooks and have been thinking about the depth & meaning of these words for several days. Initially, an image of the Eliza Doolittle character, from the musical My Fair Lady, came to mind... someone with horribly accented, mispronounced speech that dooms her to poverty in the gutters of London. Eliza's physical and vocal transformation under Professor Higgins' tutelage, offer this new, educated Eliza many more positive life opportunities. More recently, the dramatic film, The King's Speech, emphasized the extreme importance of speaking with clarity and power but... speech and language are actually, two different things.

Language encompasses both speech and the written word; yet, isn't it also a mental dialog we automatically and unconsciously apply to every aspect of our environment? We use language to communicate ideas as well as feelings through verbal, postural and written means. The depth of our expression is influenced by our creativity and the effective use of a familiar language. The element of shared meaning is at the crux of language, flavored by the delivery of speech. That which humans have not experienced, rather our limits are devoid of language & from which we cannot communicate.

Stroke victims who have limited language live in a more limited world than the one they previously inhabited. Speakers of languages different from our own have as many limits in our environment, as we would have as a non-native speaker in their homeland. Still, each human strives to develop language to express their ideas to others. Infants communicate without the benefit of what adults consider language but indeed their expressions convey needs, ideas and feelings. Perhaps instinctively mimicking our first primitive attempts at language millennia past.

Words, indeed language, so crucial to our survival are also the tinder of destruction. Disagreements through faulty expression, and even the dire specter of war can be the result of the limits of language. During my philosophical pondering of this concept I can see many situations world-wide that are dramatically effected by the limits of language. Language is deeper than the spoken word, it reflects limits of individuals and cultures. Language also delineates the limits of the world of the speaker. So many different lines in the sand...

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