Evolution of the Language Symbol
The language symbol arises from the late 13thC langage “words, what is said, conversation, talk,” which arose from Latin lingua “tongue”, also “”speech, language,” which arose from Old Latin dingua, from Proto Indo European *dnghu- “tongue”. The tongue referred to is the human tongue or “people’s language”.
To this day many believe only human beings are capable of language – no other creature is considered capable of the sophisticated, nuanced thought and communications of human beings.
The widespread propagation of written text resulted in the meaning of the symbol being broadened beyond just the spoken word to the written word. It has broadened even more with the advent of computers as the boundaries between code and speech became blurred.
This broadening in meaning has been compounded by the recent insights of nuclear theory, DNA analysis, cognitive neuroscience etc and the realization of the general principle that information is physical. These insights suggest that all life forms, including humankind, are far more subtle and sentient beings than previously imagined by Europeans. Support has diminished for the common belief has been that only human beings have “free will” and all other living forms are bound by code.
The Ego and Language
These humbling yet inspiring insights simultaneously remind us of our mortality and our interconnection with all. Smile. Such insights are very inconvenient to the ego.
Also the ego is paradox: it craves recognition even as it abhors scrutiny. Observe how the antonyms of language are “silent, quiet”. All of our “talk” occurs in our mind and the ego works to dominate it. Indeed constant mental chatter is the mark of the ego and it abhors moments of silence. It tends to complicate and confound any discussion of language. Smile. It is convenient for the ego that we believe language is all in the tongue rather than “communication” and “interchange” in general.
A Greater Truth of Language?
The truth is that while all our talk occurs in the mind only a small portion is duplicated in sound i.e. spoken using the tongue.
Plato defined speech as thought made audible. We now know the evolution of the voice box, the thought process and speech are inextricably intertwined. Could this evolution have occurred without the ability to use fire to predigest food or the subliminal ability to form a symbiotic relationship with, say, dogs and the microbial communities of our stomach?
And, of course, the focus on the tongue denies the profound role of the breath in enabling speech and thought. Human life resides in our ability to exhale and our ability to vocalise resides in our ability to exhale…
This enhanced awareness of the complexity and connectivity of language suggests that it involves much broader communications than just those directly involving the tongue:
A language is the systematic use of a set of symbols to
survive, procreate and thrive.
All living forms use myriad systems of symbols to communicate with all the myriad living elements they interact with internally and externally. Its use of its languages enables a living form to the extent that these structures of symbols are in harmony with the flows and balances that sustain it. Languages disable the living form to the extent their structures are in disharmony with all.
The conjunction of the symbols amplifies their potential to sustain or destroy depending on how true the constituent symbols are. Also conjunctions tend to breakdown with use and meaning is lost. For instance, cells can only divide a certain number of times before the DNA loss prevents further division. The children’s game of Telephone or Chinese Whisperers illustrates this in spoken language. This is a reason why Confucius advised the constant reflection on and rectification of our word use.
The consistency of human language.
All living forms experience the paradox of communication: the use of a symbol simultaneously reflects and generates its state of being. This paradox is enhanced in languages and, as we discuss elsewhere, paradox is beyond the ken of thought and the ego. Thus languages that are primarily generated by human thought are vulnerable to the denial of change/stewardship. Behaviour and language simultaneously become unsustainable when this occurs.
This consistency is manifest in many ways despite the ingenious self deceits and denials of the ego. We are well capable of saying one thing, doing the opposite and being oblivious to the inconsistency at an intellectual level. Indeed there is some evidence that our current education system amplifies this ability to be oblivious.
However the consistency of the psyche is such that such dissonance and denial will be manifest in our subconscious conjunctions of words and reversals of meanings, the displays of our emotions and other subliminal languages. Our real message is often not what we think it is. It can be quite the contrary. Smile.
English: the Language of an Anthropocene?
We are communicating in the English language and it provides an exemplar of what can occur when we fail to transcend the trickery of the ego and the limitations of thought and paradox.
Since the 16th Century the use of many prime symbols in the English language has stripped them of their associations with change and stewardship.
16th C: “An economy is planned frugality and stewardship.”
20th C: “An economy is planned obsolescence and waste.” (100% reversal of meaning.)
16th C: “A resource is something that arises again.”
20th C: “A resource is something that makes a profit.” (100% denial of change)
“Humans ARE their environment.”
“Humans AND their environment.” (100% denial of connection)
“Fossilised biomass is a form of energy.”
“Fossilised biomass is energy.” (100% denial of the universal transformation)
“Warming IS NOT warming-up.”
“Warming IS warming-up.” (100% denial of the principles of thermodynamics)
The power of language is such that the use or non-use of a tiny conjunction symbol such as “and”, “or”, “use”, “up”, “down”, “is”, “are” and “not” can generate an entirely different worldview. It can make the difference between true hope and total delusion.
The paradox of symbol use reminds us that language and behaviour are of each other. The restructuring of the English language since the 16th Century in grand denial of physics coincides with the growth of the most potent, destructive empire ever. English is the prime transnational language of commerce and largely determines the structure of global trade. Contemporary English has generated mass extinctions that put humankind at risk of extinction in an Anthropocene.
This website employs the English language as the most potent exemplar of how we can enable all the languages of humankind to be sustaining long term.
Wiki Footnote: The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that marks the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth‘s ecosystems…the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere.