We create with words. Even non-writers create worlds, meanings, stories with their spoken words. When we are not speaking or writing our own words, we are steeped in the words of others — books, songs, movies, telelvision, overheard conversations. Words — and the stories/anecdotes we create with those words — are what makes us different from other creatures here on Earth.
Not only do we create with words, we also create the words themselves. Language is evolving every bit as much as if it were a living creature, becoming more diverse, more specialized, more colorful, more adaptable.
Despite what it might seem, this isn’t going to be a laudatory post about the wonder of words. I’ve written that here: Giving Thanks for Words. Instead, I want to explore the possibility that words are creating us as much as we are creating them — for better or for worse.
I think in words — in fact, using words helped me get through my terrible grief after the death of my life mate/soul mate. By putting my feelings into words, I could make sense of what I felt, and because of it, I connected with others who felt the same way. That seems to be the main purpose of language and words — connecting with others. A means of survival. By being able to express ourselves in words, from not having to rely on grunts and gestures, we’ve built a human world that spreads across the entire planet.
Which came first, the potential for world building or the potential for word building? Did the capability for language evolve at the same time as language itself? In other words, did language create us as we were creating it? I don’t suppose it matters. Today, right now, we have both the capability and the language, and we use them copiously.
But here’s what I’ve been wondering. Is language a tool of human evolution, or is it a tool of devolution? Are words a way of dumbing us down while smartening us up? Words seem to keep us focused on the humanness of our world, keep us connected to each other both when we are together and when we are far apart. But are those very words keeping us from a greater connection? Some people believe Earth is a living, breathing creature. Some people think solar systems and galaxies are also alive. Some even believe the universe — all that exists, ever existed, will ever exist — is a living, sentient being. If this is true, are words filling our heads and airways with so much noise that we can no longer feel the breath of Mother Earth, can no longer hear the music of the spheres?
Where would we be without words?
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.
July 30, 2013 at 4:12 pm
Some people think that as we evolve, words will become meaningless, and we’ll learn to communicate telepathically. Of course if that happens, we’ll need to learn how to keep parts of our minds closed and others opened. It’d suck if you went out on a date, and while conversing with telepathy, your date saw some of the crazy things you did in college and gets turned off.
July 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm
But telepathy is the same thing — an interspecies communication that would further remove us from any connection with the cosmos.
July 30, 2013 at 7:26 pm
Or would it? If the Earth/galaxy/universe/whatever is sentient in some form or another, perhaps telepathy would give us some way to communicate with it. We wouldn’t be communicating on the same level, but we would be communicating. It’d be like the Na’vi from Avatar communicating with Eywa, the life-force of Pandora, only instead of linking their tails up with their trees, it would be direct mind-to-mind.
July 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm
I wonder if we can get some of that contact even without telepathy. On the other hand, if we did, the power surge could short out our brains, and then we wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone on any level.
July 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm
True. One time I tried meditating and I put my hands on the Earth to try and feel out its energy. I expected a large but calm ball of energy, but what I encountered was like a swirling tornado! It was insane! If that’s how we’re supposed to communicate with the Earth, then we’d better be careful we don’t get too much feedback in the process.
August 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm
Interesting, Pat. I’ve posted about the way that our words influence and limit our understanding, but this is more along the lines of whether having a species-specific form of communication makes it hard for us to reading meaning that’s coded in other ways. Anyone who has a pet knows that animals “read” meaning in things that go over our heads. We think they’re limited because they can’t talk, but they read all kinds of signs that we miss because we’re so focused on human speech. Who knows what we’re missing.
August 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm
When I was writing this post, I couldn’t help thinking about the dance of bees. They speak to each other in ways we can’t fathom, and see the world completely different. Our brains seem to be a means of narrowing the world to a human focus, and words narrow it even further. Maybe we’re not supposed to know anything beyond our human understanding. At least not while we’re here on Earth.