Why Language Is Strange

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connecting with people through language in peru

When you think about it, language is strange. Right now I am using language to discuss language. Through these words, I can flip your brain to think about the medium by which it is being explained. Like a filter, language permeates through everything. Sounds clumped together to form words which form sentences which convey meaning, found in every corner of the globe (there are approximately 7000 languages) in a different form with different tonalities. Language has and continues to shape this world. It has started wars and ended them, it can end relationships and start new ones, it has taken us to the moon and invented computers, it is the bedrock upon which society is built and it is a powerful tool which must be carefully yielded.

I have studied language through a 1 month Teaching English as a Foreign Language course and I now teach English to native Spanish speakers here in Peru. And something I have noticed from studying how English operates on a semantic and functional level is that often times it is seemingly illogical. It’s less like learning mathematics or science and more like learning the art of words.

The manner by which it is learnt by most people is through immersion when we are infants. This kind of learning is different from learning English when you are older because when you are an adult, you discover just how strange it really is. This led me to think about what a significant and all-encompassing role language plays in our life.

This brings me to the Sapir-Whorf Theory which basically states that language influences thought. For example; The Inuit dialect has approximately 53 words relating to snow. Their language is formed around their environment and culture for survival and practical purposes. Another example is with regards to the Spanish language. In Spanish, if you break a cup you would say “The cup broke” but in English, you would commonly say “He broke the cup or I broke the cup”. Spanish speakers generally remember the object that broke and not the person who broke it, where-as in English, you usually remember and put blame on the person (unknowingly) who broke the cup. Using these examples you can understand just how much language can influence thought, behaviour and culture. Therefore is it possible to craft a language that could adopt the most peaceful and helpful ideas from society and embed them deep into the language, hence, creating a more functional, peaceful society?

Of course, all of this is mere speculation. A language like this may be an unattainable feat but it is definitely interesting to think about. It’s also important to take into account how language paints everything we do. For example; when we study science we are ultimately using language to translate the ideas into hypothesis and fact. I believe when we go deeper into science (particularly string theory and quantum mechanics) language will be a factor that we must take into careful consideration as it will affect the translation of these ideas and possibly even the ability to conceptualize these esoteric and complicated ideas.

Language is strange and it is the tool by which our world is built therefore it must be carefully yielded.

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