The toolkit that is language
Language can never say what it means or mean what it says. This is a contradiction as we use language to communicate. Does this mean that all communication is flawed? If yes, then where does that leave human civilization? In today’s world of social media we are constantly reading, responding, tweeting, whatsapping and checking our Facebook feed.
In recent times, we have seen a raging debate on Twitter regarding the farm laws proposed by the Government of India in order to bring about reforms in the agricultural sector. Rihaana (singer), Greta Thunberg (climate change activist) and Meena Harris (niece of US VP Kamala Harris) have all weighed in on this debate. Their participation alarmed the government so much that it seemed to orchestrate the participation of Indian celebrities from films and sports to tweet in favour of the government. Clearly, language is extremely important to us.
However, language doesn’t come naturally to us. Children communicate in gargles and leave adults wondering what they are trying to say. Given that English is the lingua franca of the world today, we try to introduce children to it as early as possible. Suffice it to say that this often does not go down too well. We have to realize that English is not an intuitive language since it is not driven by phonetics.
If language does not help in communication then how do we converse and function as a society? We have to come to terms with the fact that words are simply a route to share ideas. They cannot be taken at face value as much of what we really wish to communicate lies unsaid. This is a shortfall of language and we need to be wary of this issue.
Take a close look at the conversations you have in your daily life. They could be on the internet, in person or over the phone. There are so many ideas buzzing through our head at all times. Is it surprising then that language fails to communicate what our real thoughts are? The only solution is to keep writing, talking, messaging till communicating becomes second nature to us. Continuous efforts are the only ways in which we can keep our language muscles strong and healthy.
The shortcomings in language should not mean that we should disregard it. Our world would collapse in the absence of language. We should simply realize that any communication whether it be an email, text message, social media post or a conversation should not be taken literally. Any communication tries to bring form to our ideas and at a conceptual level this is flawed. However, it is true that the more you write and talk the better your communication skills become.
As your communication skills improve, the more at home you become with the world of ideas. You realize the richness present in ideas and the various ways and means with which they can be shared with the world. This skill then manifests itself in your life through the arts or through more direct communication techniques such as your speech and written communiqués. This experience is quite beautiful and fulfilling.
Moving about in the world of ideas is like travelling through new lands. You experience fresh emotions, look at new sights with the wonder of a child and try your best to explore to as much depth as you can. This kind of exploration generates a fresh sense of enthusiasm and breathes new life into your world. As you explore further there is an irresistible urge to share your experience with the world and this is where your command over language comes into play.
However, it is easy to believe that you have more control over language than what you actually do. As you communicate more, you realize that you also have to keep your audience in mind. Language is essentially a route from creator to audience. Flowery words and abstract art have a few takers in a ruthless world where there are many forms of communication available for easy consumption.
The marketplace of language keeps artists and communicators honest. However, a free market also means that low quality work tends to a garner a large audience. This should not discourage communicators. As long as your efforts are honest and you push yourself to present the best possible communication, you will eventually garner a market for yourself. It may take time but then all good things do so.
We live in a world driven by ideas and communication. We are more networked now more than ever and distance hardly plays a role when it comes to communication. Tweets from halfway across the world can shake up the world’s most populous democracy. Paintings are discovered and bought on Instagram. Influencers have large YouTube followings to communicate their ideas. Now is more than ever the time for artists and communicators to push themselves and create high quality works and content that do more than just skim the surface of ideas.
Rene Descartes famously said — I think therefore I am. Such is the power of ideas. It is up to the artists and communicators to do justice to this quote. Instead, we live in a society where the mainstream media mostly operates to meet the demands of the lowest common denominator and the general public goes along with this phenomenon. This is where markets fail to create quality content.
If communicators were to only go by what succeeds in the market then we would be in a world which doesn’t push the boundaries of language. There is still a place for skill and experimentation when it comes to language. The most successful experiments in communication start off as quiet movements. Bit by bit, the ripples spread and can lead to movements which change the direction of the current. However, this takes time and a lot of effort.
It can be a lonely pursuit to experiment with communication. When the world is swimming in one direction, it can be difficult to try to change the current. However, for people who possess the potential it would be a travesty to not attempt to make a mark. After all, language is available as a tool for everybody. It is the most democratic of the arts. And, individuals need to think in order to realize themselves. This is where skill in the languages comes into play. It is worth the effort to try and create something of substance.