the life of language

As an official twenty-something for over six months now, I have had plenty of people who I have been close to walk out on my life for any number of reasons, and have been guilty of the same affair myself. This is inevitable for us still deciding who the real diamonds in our life should be and who the knock-off rocks are we choose to discard. When a relationship begins to turn sour, I try to reminisce on better times where the status of our friendship seemed like it could never get to a breaking point. How did we talk to each other and at what frequency? At what level of comfort in language did we experience with each other? Perhaps we naturally grew apart and developed dissimilar interests, or had an incident that caused the friendship to implode. In the sphere of personal relationships, I believe language is a key often overlooked in determining our triumphs and failures.

The power of language to dictate the course of a relationship has been something I have always thought about, more so than my behavior. It’s what we say that determines how we want ourselves to be viewed to others. We can use it destroy enemies, praise our best friends, establish our passion for a lover. The receiver’s response and interpretation judge our character in return. Sometimes we claim that what we say or write would not have the power it eventually did (“I didn’t know what I said had hurt you”). Naturally, and sometimes deliberately, our words inflect a tone and a mood, both in speech and print, that establishes meaning and purpose for others.

As such, individuals who act as masters of the craft of language are able to use the effect of the words they use to carry out their desires, whatever those may entail. When I tell my friend that a guy I just met “has a way with words,” she can imply that he’s really good at telling people what they want to hear. Similarly if I’m able to convey how I feel over a text message by the way in which I structure my words to the recipient, they might consider me to have a likable personality and proceed to spend more time with me.

Language usage in personal relationships is a tricky network to navigate. It’s not just the language being used that matters but at what time and frequency and for whom. My main vendetta with this connection is when others abuse language to create elaborate lies or cover up their mistakes. That can be the most powerful form of language abuse, but even on a smaller scale, we often lie to each other all the time about our own personal states.

One of the most simple things you can ask somebody is, “what’s on your mind?” It’s so simple yet so intimidating, as the words suggest the person really wants to know what you’re thinking about at the very moment. Naturally responding to this question might not be an option if what you’re thinking about is deemed inappropriate, or something that the person wouldn’t want to hear. I sometimes create alternative ways to satisfy the question trying to seem genuine while really covering up thoughts that I reserve for me.

Even though I don’t always truly answer the question, at least I know my lie was not deliberate. Once again, I revert back to the language’s power to alter the course of our personal relationships. The words we choose create the world we see. We need to always keep this idea in the back of our mind as we navigate our lives and language’s role within them.

The fun thing about language…

One of the really cool aspects of writing is the fact that you, as a writer, manipulate language.  Well yes, obviously, Sherlock.  What’s so fascinating about the basic definition of writing?  I’m glad you asked.  The cool part comes in when you take a closer look at what language really is and what it does.  When you think about it, languages are made up of thousands of building blocks, aka words.  And what are words?  They’re signs: funny looking characters that stand in to represent the ideas, feelings, and complex processes going on inside the language user’s head.

And this is cool why…?  Ever said something to a friend, sent an email to your group project member, wrote a sticky note for your roommate, and had the message you intended get completely misunderstood?  Yes…there were passive aggressive post-it fights for weeks.  I thought so.  It could either mean you’re a bad communicator, OR it could mean that your friend, group member, roommate, etc. took a different meaning than you intended from the words you chose to convey the idea you had in your head.  The cool (and awful) part of language is that it’s fatally flawed: the signs are not perfect, and the meaning that you ascribe to a sign can have a different meaning or connotation to someone else.  Essentially, we’re using words as representations for what we mean, and representations aren’t always accurate.  As if that weren’t enough, sometimes signs don’t even exist for what we’re trying to express so we make due with less precise ones, thereby widening the gap for misinterpretation.  The flaw is that there is no foolproof way to convey the original idea in your head because 1. no sign can perfectly encapsulate what you mean, and 2. there is no way to get that meaning perfectly into someone else’s head because you have to work with a fundamentally flawed representation of your idea to try to convey it.

That all sounds awful.  Why on earth are you claiming that this is in any way good?  Ah, maybe not good, but it does certainly provide the means for having some fun.  Ever notice how some of the best writers don’t try to fight the multiple connotations you can take from an utterance, but instead exploit it?  Think about good old Bill Shakespeare: he intentionally played with language so that readers could take it in a few different ways—he had fun with it.  So the next time you’re stressing over what word will perfectly encapsulate the meaning you’re trying to express, don’t!  By virtue of the nature of language, there will always be some room for misinterpretation, so instead have some fun with it.  Take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and screw with your readers a little, cause lets face it, that’s more fun than being upset later at how readers still managed to twist your intent out of how you meant it in the first place.