Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Language

from comment I love Variety headlines! Half the fun of them is trying to figure out what they're talking about. In their case, it's a longstanding tradition that dates back to the early 1900's, when it was strictly a trade rag only read by industry insiders. Remember the most famous Variety headline -- "Hix Nix Stix Pix"? Variety also created the terms "deejay" and "boffo"! These days I think it's just sort of a cutesy affectation on their part. I personally find it entertaining, but it is certainly exclusionary.

As for language itself, I would say that ever since Babel it has always been more about exclusion than inclusion. If you look at the way the Church used literacy and language as tools of repression, all the way to professional guilds using jargon as a way to protect their turf...clearly if people join together it's in spite of language rather than through it. I've seen the term "language barrier" but I've never seen the term "language bridge."


Which highlights how I think about language. As a writer, I am always thinking of language as a way to reach out to others. For me, reading is as close to telepathy as I'm likely to get. The only way I can real grasp someone else's point of view comes to me through words. Language *is* a bridge.

But that is a conscious choice. Language, like any other tool in human hands, can be used for any number of purposes. The very idea of fiction -- a long lie that reveals some manner of truth -- is part of the contradiction inherent in the tool. But language by it's very nature tends to be devisive. We cannot speak to each other clearly without sharing, not only the same words, but the same meanings. It becomes rather existential -- we can never fully communicate with each other because it is not possible to share identical understandings in our means of communications. Where words fail, pictures and actions can fall even more short.

I used an example once about giving everyone on earth a million dollars each. Even if you did it, not everyone would like you, or like the gift. Some people would spend themselves into terrible situations of poverty or debasement -- for which they could blame their benefactor. Some would feel gratitude initially and then feel that they could never repay the gift and resent the imposed commitment or debt. Some would feel the money was a manipulation -- you were TRYING to MAKE them like you. Others would feel it an insult. And still others would interpret the act as inherently unfair, because the money should be destributed according to need -- however "need" was calculated -- as some people didn't "need" a million while others "needed" more.

Which is why I am so much stymied by and yet insistant on trying to use language to bridge gaps rather than make them. Where barriers exist, so can bridges.

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