Are we limited by language?

Are we Limited by Language?

Human language is a natural phenomenon, and language learning is instinctive in childhood. In using language, people use patterns of sound or gesture to convey the words and rules of language, or they represent these patterns in codes such as writing. There are thousands of languages, historically related to each other in many language families, and they share a number of common properties. Besides using naturally acquired language, people have consciously crafted languages such as Esperanto and Klingon.

Language is considered limited when it comes to expressing thought. A good analogy is the attempt to capture a sunset on a canvas: The result is rarely even remotely comparable to the original. The best results are typically reached when the attempt of an accurate portrayal is abandoned in favour of capturing the viewers imagination .

One of the largest problems is that language is essentially linear: Thoughts, on the other hand, are non-linear and tend to form a network of interconnecting associations, dependencies, causalities, etc. To cover one relatively small subject matter in a way that corresponds to the original thought(s) implies mapping this network onto a linear structure—which is impossible for any non-trivial thoughts.

Language can be ambiguous: It would more or less impossible to write an algorithm to convert between English (or any other natural language) to pure idea (even assuming that “pure idea” could be represented sufficiently well in another form).

Language does not provide words for all concepts. One of the largest problems is finding individual words that correspond to a certain concept, and that everyone will both understand and have the same meaning for.Language is not understood uniformly. may not have the same meaning  for the same common expression that they both know. Words relating to ideology or religion like “conservative”, “liberal”, “feminist”, “communist”, “christian”, ... can vary considerably both in literal meaning and connotation . Even the more everyday and neutral words often have large differences in interpretation.

Language is poor at communicating emotions, especially when written, and needs to be combined with intonation and body language of, facial expression, hand gestures.

A solution to some problems could be replacing traditional natural languages with an artificial construct. Notably, statements in programming languages typically have a unique meaning and are much better suited to express thoughts—if only in a very limited area. So perhaps we should be speaking Esperanto or Klingon!


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  • Peter

    I'm very curious about where this discussion took you guys; would it be too much to ask for a short recapitulation? Thanks either way!

    April 11, 2013

    • David T.

      These are open discussions in small groups that go all over the place and rarely reach a conclusion!

      April 11, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Thank you for hosting this David, what a lovely group of people

    March 3, 2013

    • David T.

      Good to meet you. Glad you enjoyed it.

      March 3, 2013

  • David T.

    Ah, a Treki !

    February 27, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      :-)

      February 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Darmok, and Jalad at Tanagra!

    February 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Shame as it's a fascinating topic. Busy, busy

    February 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sounds fascinating. I will be there!

    February 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hehe with the answer to that being yes I look forward to where it goes from there!

    February 25, 2013

  • philosophile

    Hi all...see you soon

    February 12, 2013

  • Joel S.

    Here is a blog post from a while ago when I was pondering to myself about the limits of language :)
    http://joelshep.tumblr.com/post/36505836537/laughing-your-way-out-of-the-limits-of-language

    January 24, 2013

    • David T.

      Ok, thanks, will check it out.

      January 25, 2013

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Rafaël

We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

Rafaël, started French Conversation Group

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