The complexities of a diverse language and approaches to understanding

Woodroward
3385 posts Member
Language is a tricky thing, constantly evolving and changing. The nature of language is change. Different words with the same meaning and the same word with different meanings will evolve based on the needs of where it originates. This is how all language(s) have come to be.

Initially there were not several languages, language was just being invented amongst people when the population grew large enough for it to be necessary. It was simple and far from all inclusive. Different peoples in different areas picked different sounds to have the same meaning, and the same sounds to have different meanings.

So most initial languages were random sounds with no order to them. This led to some languages being purely based on the structure of the sound emitted when the wind blows past your teeth as you breath through your vocal chords. Other languages paid attention to the pitch of the sound as well as the structure, and still others involved things like clicks or whistles that are sounds not emanating from your vocal chords.

This incredible diversity in meaning and sound led to people trying to create clear definitions across borders for whatever they could. This endeavor to create mutual understanding led ultimately to the creation of Latin.

Now Latin is amazing compared to the languages before it because it is a planned, organized language. Pre-Latin languages were formed in the random way I was describing earlier. Latin was created from the ground up in a logical sensible order. Verbs in Latin and Latin based languages conjugate in predictable, logical patterns (generally anyway). So if I hear a verb in Latin, I know how to say it in regards to me, you, them and us, in past present and future tense because I only have to change the last couple letters in a pre-patterned way.

Upon reading the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles years ago I read of a concept introduced by the character Marius, who was responsible for creating the vampire who created Lestat (though in the movies he just created Lestat). It was that the ability of the human mind to have a new and creative idea that can cause progress is limited by the language that it thinks in.

The theory further goes on that the reason the Roman empire was so ground breaking and successful compared to the empires before it was because the keenly organized Latin language allowed them to have superior thinking pathways which led to them being more efficient and creative people.

This theory ultimately goes on to say that the industrial age was likely brought on by the onset of the English language as a dominant language mainly because of the lack of rigid rules while still having a backbone of sound structure. The fluidity that comes about without the rigidity of fixating on a singular way of doing things has allowed people's minds to wander down paths that could likely have never been supported down the pre-patterned structure of the Latin languages.

This is somewhat backed up in the real world by the fact that English is considered the language of science. Now everything gets classified in Latin, it's true, but when scientists from around the world meet and work together, they almost always converse and theorize in English. Basically Latin allows you to understand without having to think, and English allows you to think so you can understand.

Latin is best as a ground format so that more complex thought processes and ideas can be discovered with English.

Now that history and theory has been discussed, I'd like to come back to the idea of definition in general. There are 2 real types of definitions: denotative and connotative. A denotative definition is a definition that comes right out of the dictionary. It's bland and has little meaning to it. Because of it's simplicity, it is easy to understand and requires little to no thought. It is reminiscent of Latin in that it conveys understanding without requiring thought.

A decent example of this would be a bonfire. The denotative definition would say a bonfire is a large fire.

Now a connotative definition is a much more ephemeral definition, it deals with slang, feelings, and the images a word calls to mind. It requires time, thought, and potentially experience to understand.

The connotative definition of a bonfire would be a party, drinking, summer, camping, good times, etc.

Years ago the word bonfire was actually spelled bonefire and was the term used for a funeral pyre.

At that time the connotative definition was that of sadness and loss.

Now it fell out of parlance for a couple of hundred years and re-emerged as the familiar bonfire. I, personally, am glad this happened because I enjoy the connotative definition of the word. I have many pleasant memories of such.

Connotative definitions are a lot like the English language: complex and thought-provoking.


So the main reason I bring this up is that I was recently having a discussion about languages with a number of people on this forum. There was much debate about being understood.

Personally I don't enjoy communication that isn't thought provoking. I don't like being told about the answer someone has come up with. I want to hear about their journey to the answer. That's the important part, not the destination. Not the bottom line. Much like the greatest philosophers didn't answer life's greatest questions, they asked them.

Everyone's different. That's why the question is more important than the answer. That's why the journey trumps the destination. The real breakthroughs in learning come from the thinking that precedes the answer, not the answer itself.

So I think that there may be something to be said for speaking to be understood, but being too well understood is as much a problem as not being understood at all.

After all, only using the rigid definition of a word to convey messages is similar to having a closed mind. Now this may seem to be common in teacher student relationships, but the student surpassing the teacher is supposed to be what the teacher strives for, in which case the teacher must have a mind that is open in order to learn from their former pupil.

Hence, I think striving too hard to be understood really only limits yours (and others') opportunities to understand rather than actually helping anyone to understand better.

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