It flows through the air and is cemented on paper. It is packed onto shelves in tomes. Whispered in a lover’s ear, passed between friends on a street, proclaimed before a vibrant crowd, language is the spider’s web that connects one heart to another. Those sounds and syllables, mixed together and organized, chained by structure, controlled by the mind, released by the mouth, express thoughts and feelings. Words and sentences, they bridge the gap that has always been between people. Born from a simple seed, language has grown to be a tall oak of twisted and knotted branches, on which the leaves grow green then brown, only to be reborn a brighter shade of green. From the extended moaning uuunh of a child’s aching stomach, it sprouted. From the melodious song of a mother to her child, no words but meaning, it grew. Those sounds, they soothed, they excited, they angered. The grunts of men, who went out with spears to hunt, told tales of salutary successes and fatal failures. Gathered around fires, huddling tight for warmth, those men’s clans cried at the news of a love one lost and sang upon hearing of big game killed. Those ancient children, wives, and elderly, who lived and died long before history remembers, heard those primordial words and reacted; they reacted! That is the power of language: to sway and to move. Peoples came and went, each enjoying the beauty and purpose of language left to them by their predecessors. They paid forward the favor done for them by adding to what they bestowed on those to come. Books and plays, they wrote, and phrases and idioms they formed. Although splendid sumptuousness and style developed, simplicity elaborately convoluted. Complexity, complexity: that is what became of the simple thing from which language began. Sesquipedalian utterances took the place of a single simple look, a catch of the eye. A remark about one’s honorificabilitudinitatibus replaced a simple bow. Each group became an island, isolated from those with a language other than their own. Though the flower of one dialect may wilt and the branches of two tongues may conjoin, the treasures of each then add to the other. From this the lexicographers have a wealth of tools to sculpt a thought in the reader’s head, so language can perform its most basic duty. Ideas are exchanged and relationships made because of language: that delicious taste that tips off the tongue, travels into the ear, and slides down to the heart.
A Meditation on Language
April 4, 2009