Sunday, August 16, 2009

Language - Beyond Communication

Language was more than a means of communicating in my family. It was used to be unique, mysterious, superior, eccentric and sometimes as a weapon. Words were selected for impact, sound and occasionally meaning got lost somewhere along the way.

I have a sister who uses words for their sounds. That is, she chooses a word that she imagines to be the most shocking or the funniest or the most outrageous. The true meaning of the word is of only secondary importance if it is even considered at all. So a plush rug with an attractive design might be redundant, even if it isn't. There's no use in telling her what redundant actually means. She has decided that it's perfect to describe the rug. Ah well, we know what she means... I think.

My mother would actually change the sounds of words. She would purposely search to find a way to pronounce a standard word in a new way. She also used some very large words when she talked to very small children. I know people who would object to that, believing the children would not understand. Having experienced it, I realize that children can learn large words as easily as small ones, and even children are more impressed by being called dilatory than they are in being told they are being slow or causing their mother a delay. It sounds so much worse yet somehow, so much more powerful and important. I was dilatory a lot.

My brother learned to use language as a weapon. There were few who could verbally spar with him and survive. Soon, the only aim in conversation was to avoid being the target of his barbed wit.

Everyone's first experience of language is utilitarian. We learn to express our needs and the names of those who supply them. Therefore, there is a time in life where saying "mama" "dada" and "baba" is perfectly sufficient. It's what we learn next that makes the difference and makes life interesting. If we are not dilatory or redundant, language can make life a lot more fun.

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