The End of Language

verbose

I like the in-between things. I like how we have names for the different ways things can be, but there’s always an infinite, if infinitely precise, difference between those states, and a tremendous spectrum spans that in-between space.

Maybe it’s because I keep ending up living in that space. I am an extremely stationary nomad.

Most people are not comfortable with the in-between.

There is a process which seems to occur. First, a thing exists, or comes into existence. This thing arrives naked, with no name, so sometimes it takes a while for people to realize that it is a thing. So, they make a name for it, they try to describe a box around what it is and what it isn’t with a label.

This is useful. People have a word to call this thing which they were aware of but had no way to talk about, and people who weren’t aware of said thing can hear its word and from that discover what the thing is. This is the birth of a word, the beginning of language.

Words change as people use them, but they also resist change by the same mechanism– a word that changes too readily is near useless because it can mean anything at any time. However, a word that never changes carries a risk: As the thing it was invented to describe expands and shifts, it may one day be too small to carry the range of meaning it was invented to span. It may, even, miss the mark completely, and describe something which has long since disappeared and no longer exists.

But this is all speaking in generalities. Let’s look at specifics, shall we?

“It’s not really a video game, just a movie with some interactive bits”

“She’s not a real gamer, she just plays social games”

“Look out man, that’s not a real chick, just a dude in a dress”

Pictured: True Scotsman

Pictured: True Scotsman

Our words are failing us terribly quickly.

People are not comfortable with the in-between.

This causes a number of different problems, but what makes saddens me is how artificial most of the problems we have are. People get angry at art because it doesn’t meet the requirements they have for the term ‘game’ or the term ‘first-person-shooter’ as though simply fitting that criteria were innately desirable. As well, inversely, they get angry at games because they don’t fit their definition of ‘art’, and never mind that it is the ways in which these things exceed our understanding that makes them really amazing.

We get angry at each other, too, as we see our comrades exceed the bounds of gender and genre we set on our fellows. We accuse these things and people of not being ‘real’ because they exceed our understanding of what those names can describe.

How cruel, to find the words we use to describe each other more important than each other.

Of course, that’s only one perspective, the perspective of language. I find this perspective comforting and understandable, as language is basically where I live, but to everyone else these similar structures may be couched in some other understanding, some other descriptive structure which comes to supersede that which it describes.

Tradition.

Family.

Nation.

But still, why is it we seem to believe these institutions are more intrinsically valuable than those humans which make it possible for them to exist?

We are convinced we must fit square pegs into round holes, and we inconveniently keep forgetting that we’re the ones who made those holes in the first place and it is quite feasible for us to remake them, and maybe make them square this time. Or, better yet, create something with more than one kind of hole, since it may well be that the round pegs fear that there will be no place for them in this new square-holed world.

But we are afraid.

This has a cost both in terms of human happiness and our capacity to innovate– not to imply that those things aren’t intimately tied together in the first place. The spaces in between the definitions that come quickly to mind are where we can find new ideas. New ideas have, by definition, no language available to describe them. Find a new word with a new meaning and you have a new concept.

CannedLightbulbs

New ideas, fresh from the idea store

I suppose it’s not interesting to observe that people fear new things. I suppose it’s well understood that this is the case. What is interesting, though, and mentioned less often, is the way people fight novelty by sectioning things off with language.

“It’s interesting, but is it ART?”

Language drives ideas drive language drives ideas. Insistent and exclusionary terminology is a way to enforce a status-quo.

As always, I am not angry as much as I am disappointed. I understand that it is frightening to try to construct a new world, a bigger one than the one we had before, and it’s never going to be easy. It is always hard to believe, as an artist, that if we have made something once that we can make it again.

The magic was in you all along.

Change begins where language ends. Change begins when we begin to perceive the edge of our ability to describe our world. As long as we clutch our vocabulary to our little hearts and prescribe proper usage and get angry and feel betrayed whenever something exceeds the language we use to describe it, we will never be able to conceive of a world better than this one, much less realize it.

I will grant, I am sometimes pedantic in my usage of language, I am sometimes prescriptive. I will correct people. I do think it’s important to know the rules before you break them. But it’s also important to realize that some rules do need to be broken, and to respect that not everyone may be as diligent as I am in regard to learning those rules before breaking them.

If no rules are ever broken, we will never exceed the language we use to describe ourselves.

People are trying to express something to each other, and sometimes that expression exceeds our pathetic dictionaries. Try to hear the words which don’t exist lying under the words that do, try to perceive the description of future ideas unsaid. It may sound like gibberish, it may BE gibberish, but under it there’s an idea.

Maybe not a good one, but a new one.

Shall we name it?

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