The Paradox of Language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by one_raven, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I have heard many different ideas over the years about what separates man from the rest of the animals.

    Abstract thought
    I have held for years that man is the only animal with the ability to affect change in his environment on a rapid and wide scale.

    All these things have one thing in common – language.
    Language is the only way we have to communicate complex ideas.
    All of our political, social, religious and philosophical ideas were built with and upon language.
    Without language, it is impossible to communicate any of these ideas and ideals – not even to oneself.

    Without language, our thoughts would consist of simple emotion and reaction.
    Without language, our thoughts would make Homer Simpson look like William Shakespeare and Tarzan look like Homer Simpson at least.
    Some say that animals have language – of course they do communicate, but “language” comes with structure… rules… grammar...
    Without language, our thoughts would be about as complex as animal communication.

    Me Strong. We fuck?
    Woo Hoo!



    (Yes, animals DO curse a lot. That’s because they don’t have the language required to develop rules of ethics or decorum.)

    I have also long considered that something unique to man is his ability to justify any action to meet his own needs. We act against our own best interest – purposefully. We commit suicide!
    People often talk about and make claims of this or that is “Human Nature”. I don’t know what “Human Nature” is, and I am highly skeptical of any ideas that stake claims to that knowledge.
    We routinely override our instincts to the point that it is just about impossible to know what our instincts really are anymore. We have reasoned them out of existence (or at least buried them deep into our subconscious).
    By the time we can speak well enough to express what our core beliefs, needs, urges, values, ideals, drives are – they have already been shaped by our language.
    Every minute aspect of who you are is shaped by language.

    Reason is impossible without language.
    Herein lies the paradox.

    If language allows us to apply reason to override our “animal” instincts, then it is language that grants us free will.
    Without language, there is no self-determination – only rudimentary, primitive conditioned response.
    Without language our thoughts are little more than simple emotions and responses to those emotions.

    Though language is what gives us the capacity of self-determination, language is also man-made and taught to us by our parents; by our communities; by the world at large.
    Nature stops at instinct – everything above the level of instinct is manufactured.
    Language, a man-made construct, has unfathomable influence on the person you are.
    That which frees you to escape the binds of unthinking natural trigger responses, also binds & shapes your thoughts and molds the person that you are.
    Language creates man in its own image.
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  3. sniffy Banned Banned

    So, to clarify, you think language is man-made as opposed to human-made?

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    How much do you think humans are freed by language from natural triggers?

    At the moment I'm thinking 'not much' because I think sometimes language binds us to our natural instincts which may naturally cause us to fear 'other'.

    What about how language is used emotively?

    Tricky thing language. Open to interpretation and abstraction.
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  5. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    not much. honestly, i'm convinced that there are plenty of folks who haven't left their room, or stepped away from their computer, in a couple of decades--just step outside and then tell me how much "humans are freed by language from natural triggers." (that's not a jab against either of you, by the way, just an opinion regarding many a scientist, theorist, ...)

    most people haven't yet grasped the concept of a metaphor--nor shall they. abstract thinking? ha! that's a good one.

    as to the rest, i've spent far too many hours--and years--considering the matters, and i'm tired.
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  7. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    I disagree. I've seen this sort of claim before, but I've never seen any actual evidence to back it up. Brain studies have revealed that the parts of the brain used for formulating and understanding language are pretty well separated from the parts of the frontal cortex that are involved in abstract and analytical thought, which seems to strongly suggest that you don't need language to think.

    Also, just speaking for myself, I don't typically "think" in English or any other language. I can certainly think about English, for example if I'm reading or writing something, rehearsing a speech in my head, trying to memorize lines in a play, etc. But the actual process of getting an idea or critically analyzing a concept does not, so far as I can tell, involve language. This subjective internal experience seems to fit with modern data about the brain, so...yeah. It seems that language is not particularly necessary for thought.
  8. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    So, ....which came first - the desire/need to communicate or the complex ideas?

    I'm also curious how we "know" that animals can't communicate complex ideas? How can beavers work together to dam up a small stream in order to make a pond if they can't communicate the idea?

    In view of man's constant and usually senseless talking and gabbing, perhaps the apes, et al, just don't have the need to be talking all the time. Apes, as well as all of the other animals in the world, seem to get along just fine ....except when confronted by the one and only true and nasty predator - man! And all the talking in the world won't protect them from the one true killing machine - man!

    Humans suck!

    Baron Max
  9. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member


    just simple emotion and reaction? so when a gesture ought to communicate one thing, but it doesn't, that's just a reaction? play: evidence of metacommunication. if they really intended to kill one another, i think they would--but they're certainly pretending that that's what they're doing.

    hehe. but one example amongst billions. the notion that (non-human) animals don't consider is utterly ridiculous.

    and how do we "know"? well, we construct silly little laboratory experiments and expect animals to behave as though they were in their own habitat--and completely forget that we are also a significant part of the experiment.

    or, to phrase it differently, it's not happening because we can't see it--that's scientific! heh.
  10. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    For those who "think" without words, how to you conceptualize, for example, Democracy?
  11. Enmos Registered Senior Member

    Does it ever happen to you that you want to say something but cannot find the words? You know what it is you want to say, but you cannot translate it into words..

    Or what about this..
    After having posted at SciForums, I sometimes replace Dutch words with English ones (both in speech and writing). Doesn't that indicate that the concepts exists separate from the words?
  12. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Completely devoid of words? No.
    Finding difficulty in finding the right words to fill in the blank spaces? Of course.

    Again, how do you concieve of Democracy without words?
    I can feel powerless, but I can't concieve of sharing legislative and decision making power without words.
    I am not saying it is impossible - maybe people think in different ways - I am saying that I can't even fathom of "thinking" complex ideas without words.
    When someone wants to do something that they "feel" is wrong, what do they do? They "talk" themselves into it. right?

    Of course they exist separate from the words.
    Internal combustion engines exist, but I'd like to see a gorilla invent one.
  13. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Try explaining Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra without words.
    Would it be done in pantomime with hand gestures and tail lashes?
  14. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    I guess the best I can do by way of explanation would be to say that I can be aware of the mechanics of how a democracy works and ponder said mechanics without actually "thinking the words."
  15. Grim_Reaper I Am Death Destroyer of Worlds Registered Senior Member

    What about Bees they communicate completly without words as do many other insects.
  16. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    You can't explain it without words, no. But you can ponder the concepts of it without thinking words.

    Again, I'll point out the brain data which indicates that the "thinking" parts of the brain are pretty separate from the language formulation/understanding center. There are some interesting cases of people with brain damage who totally lose their ability to understand or formulate language, yet still seem to be able to think perfectly well; they just can't communicate.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2009
  17. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    That happens to me all of the time. I know exactly how I feel or what I think, but there isn't a word that really does it justice or really explains what I mean. So then those complex ideas or thoughts can't be conveyed through language. Often times people will say, I can't explain it, but I can show you through some other means, be it art, music, body language... what have you. Just because one can not express their thoughts does not mean that those thoughts don't exist.
  18. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    I'd be just as likely to invent one as a gorilla. We know the same amount of information about it, in fact some gorillas might know more than me.
    Not all humans are capable of creating such novel ideas, but we can be taught by the creator how their idea works and how to duplicate it. Animals seem to be the same, just on a smaller scale. Like that Japanese monkey who washed her potatoes instead of brushing the sand off. She taught her friends, who taught their friends, who taught their offspring and a generation later all of the monkeys washed their potatoes, picking of sand was a thing of the past.
  19. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    so the deaf and mute individual who "communicates" via sign "language" is really without real language,correct?
  20. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I am in my car right now, facing a busy road. I can see the gaps, time the movements of other cars, find my opportunity and jump in - all without words.
    That is a far cry, however, from conceptualizing The Communist Manifesto without words.
    How does one do such a thing?
    What is that experience like?
    I don't get it.
  21. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    correct. as i remarked above, the vast majority of humans cannot even fathom the concept of metaphor--create an internal combustion engine? ha!
  22. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    First, it doesn't have to be spoken to be complex language.
    Second, sign language is exactly that - signs. They represent words no differently that written signs.
  23. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    many quite extraordinary individuals are synaesthetic--they conceive many "ideas" without language (in the narrow sense in which you are using it, and which is not wholly consistent with all academic notions of "language").

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