Touched upon in a previous blog post, I explore how parts of our language are inadequate to express what we really mean. Language is overused, emotions overstated, events overplayed so when we need to express more than the everyday norms, we are lost for words. The meaning of language is gone. Language is rendered inadequate…
How The Meaning of Language is Changing
I think we can all agree that the phrase ‘I love pizza’ and ‘I love you’ are expressing different kinds of love*. You don’t love a pizza in the same way that you love your partner, or at least, it’s rare for the stone baked delight to rank higher than a human lover. In the modern era, though, it is common for these special emotional words to be used in mundane, everyday contexts. The meaning is lost, and they become, everyday. But what happens when you love somebody more than you loved them before? Then you might say ‘I love you a lot’, but is that really enough to convey the depth and strength of emotion that you might feel?
In an assignment I did as part of a group project for university, we struggled to translate a sign which, taken literally meant ‘Charcoal’ in English. The sign obviously referred to the cooking method used in the restaurant as it was found in the Curry Mile area of Manchester. However, it’s hard to believe that a speaker of Arabic, reading the sign without a translation, would interpret ‘Charcoal’ to mean the same thing as an English speaker. Language develops as a result of the necessity for it in a particular culture, in trying to describe an activity in another culture using the language of another, the language falls short without borrowing terminology.
The Origins of English
The English language is complex. It has been influenced by many languages including Latin, Old German, Old Norse and Greek to name but four. Ironically, a meme recently circulated on Facebook asking for all the ‘foreign’ words to be taken out of British passports. The meme was made up, almost entirely, of French loanwords and Latinate terms.
Logically, there should be enough scope in the thousands upon thousands of words the language holds to convey everything we could possibly need to express. So why do we find ourselves speechless?
We live in a society where emotions are so restrained. It’s often said that the stiff upper lip attitude adopted during World War II has never really shifted from British society. This is unfortunately true. When someone passes in the street and asks how we are, the temptation is to reply ‘Yeah, I’m fine‘ regardless of how we are. It’s as if expressing how we truly feel is frowned upon. We adapt our use of language so that ‘fine’ covers when we are feeling annoyed, upset, frustrated and, actually, just fine thank you! Similarly, good can refer to someone just having a good day because the sun is shining or someone who has just accepted a marriage proposal where ecstatic or thrilled may convey the emotion more accurately but is scarcely used.
The opposite can also be true, of course. A cup of coffee may be described as amazing but surely a meal served in a three star Michelin restaurant should be distinguishable by it’s very nature. Yet we can use the same language to describe completely different experiences. My recent track day driving a Porche at over 100mph was phenomenal not great or good. Yet it pains me to hear such everyday words to describe once in a lifetime opportunities.
It is a travesty that our language, that we should take pride in, is used in such a sloppy and inconsiderate way. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Language is so beautiful and articulate when used sparingly,
NB: I do love chocolate and I’m not sure whether my love for chocolate can be adequately described as the love I share for other non-human objects.