“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” –Roland Barthes
Language is an almost magical system of communication. Imagine an early civilization transmitting a message between two individuals hundreds of miles apart. One carves cuneiform symbols with a reed onto a small, thin brick of wet clay and dries it under the sun. A porter on horseback carriers the brick to its destination and hands it to the receiver, who stares at the brink, translating the written symbols to audible symbols, conveying a meaning to those listening.
This would seem a miracle to the uninitiated, illiterate members of the audience. It is like the cartoon where a shipwrecked anthropomorphic animals speaks into a jar, closes it, and throws it into the water to be heard upon opening wherever the jar happens to find its way.
Cultures on multiple continents have viewed their language and even alphabet characters as holy. An alphabet was often viewed as being handed down by God. Written language was divinely inspired.
The spoken language carried a similar weight. Ancient Jews would not speak the name of their God. To utter the collection of sounds that made up that name was taboo.
We speak with purpose to convey a meaning to another. We tell a story, express emotion, attempt to create desire or anger in a recipient, relieve withheld anger, or ask for an answer.
In every situation we use language we communicate multiple meanings – what we might call layers or levels. It is not that we simply make a statement. We use words to connect what we have understood in our heads to what is understood in the recipient. Words are the force between two magnets, either pulling or pushing sender and receiver towards or away.
In a meeting I utter the sound “uh” after being asked a question. The sound has an intention. It is a placeholder. The sound is subtle and carries on for two full seconds. Any longer and it would have garnered attention and seemed unique, unusual.
Silence would have allowed for others to take my place in response. I use this sound as a place holder in a social queue. It is a word but not a word: I use it to convey my consideration for the question. If I had stated “please hold while I formulate a response” my language would have seemed forced, robotic. If I had remained silent and simply looked at the asker, I would have again delivered a message.
I may disconnect my language from my emotion to preserve a relationship or continue on with an objective. I am asked to do something I wish not to do. I reply an enthusiastic “yes” before pausing for a moment and replying “ok” and nod my head twice. It is the follow up that conveys my lack of assurance.
I answer twice.
My emotion is expressed and withheld. It is not a false response as I wish to convey my willingness as well as convey my lack of personal interest. There is an “I” as well as an “I am”. I want but I am also I am wanting ________________.
With language I may express a range and variety of opinions and mix my meanings to convey the complexity of human emotion. It is not the 1 0 of binary language. We are a strange loop.