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The limits of my language Essay

Language is defined as “a system of communication consisting of sounds, words and grammar, or the system of communication used by the people of a particular country or profession”. (Collins English Dictionary)

All languages are made up sounds and letters which form words, sentences and phrases. The development of a language can best be illustrated by the advancement of a child as it learns a language. A baby begins by using sounds to communicate. It learns these sounds from others and experiments with new sounds to judge the reaction of others (a baby learns very quickly that it will attract attention by screaming!). The next step in its progression is to learn words, which it does by copying others. It is only once the child goes to school that it begins to understand the connection between letters, words and sounds. All through this development the Child’s understanding and use of language advances, giving it access to an ever wider world.

Once the child begins to read, another whole new area is opened up, giving it access to information, opinions and ideas. Later in school, the child will start to develop its own sense of language. With friends it will create a jargon that only people in its group will be capable of understanding properly. A teacher trying to adapt to this language will soon give up. The older the child gets the more it will be able to interpret the language and use a broader vocabulary giving access to an ever wider world.

By attending school and further education, the individual starts to develop a specialised language, depending on which subject it studies. This new experience reflects in the language of the child. Depending on which subjects are studied, it will use specific techniques, languages and expressions. Some surveys claim that a manual worker may have an average vocabulary of approximately 800 words and uses basic grammatical structures and expressions. In contrast, the surveys say that a university graduate may have an average vocabulary of 2,000-2,500 words and will use more complex grammatical structures and a more complicated language. (Thuengen-survey, Germany 1997)

The boundaries of the child’s world expand, as it grows up, because of its capability to understand and use language. Even as an adult, the boundaries can still be expanded, through learning a foreign languages or studying a subject in detail (e.g. medicine or politics.) and adding further to knowledge and vocabulary. Conversely, a person who is disabled and cannot hear or speak will not be able to develop its world as quickly or as broadly as someone who has these senses. However, it might be argued that their experiences in learning with this disability, develop their world in ways which non disabled people do not experience. Similarly, the aging process, accidents or illnesses can often lead to an adult losing the power of speech or hearing which will also lead to an established world being reduced or restricted in some way.

Wittgenstein wrote that “it is the structure of language that conditions how we think about the world and, therefore, how we perceive it”. Having established that language consists of sounds, letters and words, grammar, puts the words into a specific structure to form sentences. However, the structure of a language is not only dependant upon its grammar but also on the objectives of its user. For example, someone who wants to convince his listeners of something may use euphemisms. This technique uses different expressions to evoke the desired feeling in the listener. A person may speak of “pacification” but mean “bombing”, “revenue enhancement” but mean “taxation” or “non retention” in place of “firing”. The use of such phrases is common amongst politicians, lawyers and businessmen.

Further development of language can involve the use of puns (play on words e.g.: “Manchester United achieve their goals”), sarcasm (ironic remark intended to wound e.g.: “What a lovely hair cut”!), similes (comparison of two unlike things e.g.: “So are you to my thoughts as food to life” -Shakespeare-) and innuendos (indirect or subtle, derogatory implication in expression e.g.: “That Stella loves to talk with fellow” -Swift-).

These techniques give language an immense power. George Orwell’s novel “1984” is probably the best example of what power language can have. In “1984” a language was invented by the government, called Newspeak that used words which would, once in use, control the thoughts of the population. We can therefore say that Wittgenstein’s statement that “the limits of language are the limits of the world”, applies for the people in “1984”.

Although Orwell’s world is only fictional, the power of language also appears in today’s world. A good example is probably the discussion on the Abortion Act in 1988. The enquiry was about if the limit after which an abortion is illegal shall be reduced from 28 weeks to 18 weeks. Those who pleaded for the change used the expression “killing a baby” rather than using “terminating a pregnancy” which was used by their opponents. Looking at the expressions we find it easier to justify the action if we hear and use “terminating a pregnancy” and can then argue in favour of “terminating a pregnancy”.(example taken from “Understanding language”, article in “New Society” from the 22 January 1988)

However, there are many different types of language. For example, maths has invented, similar to the language of music, a universal language. It is different from most languages since it is limited only to maths or music. These languages can only be helpful to people who understand maths or music but it does not matter what language the person speaks because they are universal languages with unitary signs and values. Another type of language is body language. Body language is a non verbal communication, in which gestures, postures and facial expressions manifest various physical, mental, or emotional states. For example someone who is embarrassed may turn red or someone who is trying to lie may look down towards the floor more often.

Writers, poets and playwrights have always been recognised for their contribution in developing language, placing new interpretations on everyday situations and events. Similarly, journalists, politicians and businessmen (especially lawyers) who earn their living from the use of language continue to develop language.

Personally, I agree with Wittgenstein’s statement that “the limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s world”. I have made the experience that when I moved house, I found it hard to join in a conversation amongst young people. The more I got used to their way of speaking and using language, the easier I found it to join in the conversation. So I can say that through expanding my language, my possibilities also grew.

I made a similar experience as I learnt French. The first time I was in France I could not speak the language and could therefore not take part in the French “life”. After I had studied French for 3 years I went on an exchange trip to France. This time I could actively take part in the French “life”.

To conclude we can say that the more somebody’s learns about language, the bigger becomes his world. Wittgenstein’s statement is therefore correct. If someone learns a foreign language his horizon expands immensely. Conversely, when he moves to a foreign country his possibilities becomes limited because he cannot speak the language.

Sources:

New Society

Handouts

Internet: www.thesaurus.com

Collins English Dictionary

Roget’s Thesaurus


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