Sunday, October 02, 2005

Do We Need A Language ?

Hello Friends

This is my first posting on any blog. Hope it marks beginning of a new process, and just doesn't get obliviated as a one-off event.
Today, I would like to share some views on languages. The very creation of language always fascinates me and amuses. "How was the first word invented?", "How was the first sentence built up?", "Who would have thought that man would require a language?".........These are questions, I am sure, am never going to get answered. Still, I love exploring this amazing world of languages.

In April, 2004, in Economist, an article titled, "Language Barriers" was published . The article posed a question, "Can a concept exist without words to describe it?". It talked about a Brazilian tribe - 'Pirahã' - living along the banks of the Maici River. This tribe, mainly consisting of hunters-gatherers, use of a system of counting, "One-Two-Many".....Ya Esta! In this system, 'One' means one or two, 'Two' means a bit more than that, 'Many' is everything more than 'Two'. Not only that the Pirahã don't use a number system but they can't even learn numbering and counting when they are exposed to. Lack of enumeration and counting skills of this tribe, led some scientists to call them, 'Men from Mars'. Their language is unique not only terms of numers but also in some other aspects. They communicate as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech. It is not that this tribe has lived in complete isolation. They have been having some little trade with other Brazilians for more than 200 years. However, socially they have strongly rejected to be a part of mainstream. Moreover, internally, they use a barter system. And probably that could be the reason why they would never need a complex number system. Because in barter all you need is 'one or two' and rarely, 'many'.

This also has another interesting insight. Our language not only determines our thought but also our ability to think. The Pirahã cannot learn numbering because they simply don't have numbers in their language. Language is a medium of expression. Words are an invention, and necessity to express, is the mother of this invention. But language can also limit your scope of expression. You can express, only what you can think of. And you can think of only, what your language allows you to think of. Well, this is getting complicated. Without language you cannot think and without thinking, you cannot develop a language !!!??

But does this tell us that our language is making life more complicated than easier? We have invented complicated languages - labyrinths of complex structures and words. And now we have complicated expressions and confused individuals. Can't we just part with our over-dependence on language? Can't we become 'humans' instead of mouthpieces of ourselves? Can we put emotions ahead of words describing it? When we use words like 'love', 'anger', 'patriotism' etc., words become more important than actual emotions, for which these words are used. What is 'love' for me, is not 'love' for others. What is 'fear' for others, may not be 'fear' for me. Words continue to cheat us. Language continues to mislead us.

Can we think independently of language? Probably no! Our minds are programmed by languages learnt by us. And it is difficult for us to reprogram ourselves. Probably its not that language is at fault, rather we human beings, misuse it to cheat others. What we need is a little bit more of honesty on our parts. If we become honest with our own emotions and expressions, words will no more be our masters, they will no more cheat us. Let's own our words, and not be enslaved by them!
(Finally!! - In the beginning of a post, I have posted a photo image from my recent rural excursion of India. Can you suggest appropriate words to describe it? Or, we should just leave it like that?)

- Kandarp