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How language restricts us

August 31, 2013

Words (Photo credit: Southernpixel – Alby Headrick)

Language restriction – It is quite interesting how language is made in order to facilitate our communication, but instead of facilitating it, it made our communication more difficult. Not only is there the problem of more languages, which make it impossible to understand everyone in the world, but also language in itself creates obstacles when we want to express ourselves, since our culture is different too. Our culture determines our language, that’s a fact. If I grow up in an environment where, for instance, a lot of cities can be found, a lot of my vocabulary will contain words which are related to cities. If I say something, it depends on my needs what I will say, and if I never see a city, there is no reason to use words which are related to cities. In this way, we can see how the words of different languages and countries have words which are related to their own country or culture. A good example is the Greenlandic language, which contains a lot of words related to fish. Now suppose that I will talk with an Inuit, an inhabitant of Greenland. Not only will I need to learn Greenlandic in order to communicate with people in Greenland who can’t speak Danish nor English, I will also have to learn their culture, which I can never completely understand. If I ‘m not brought up in a certain culture, it’s nearly impossible to be able to understand it, because as a child we make a connection with other people from our group and at a later age it get’s quite difficult to understand other people who lived in other ways. When we connect to other people, we always base ourselves on our own experiences, and in our similarities we can find things which we can use for our contact. If people have a certain same interest, they will use it to make a connection with eachother, not only in order to find out more about the subject which they like, but also to get a friend and a person who can help them in difficult times.

Sisimut, Greenland; Parkverbotsschild in Dänis...

Sisimut, Greenland; Sign which says that it’s forbidden to park in both Danish and Kalaallisut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Asking a question – If I have learned Greenlandic, I ‘m able to communicate, but only the universal communication will be possible in communicating. Every language contains words and phrases which enable us to say things like: ‘How old are you?‘ and ‘What is your name?‘, but they don’t enable us to say: ‘I love you’. When we express ourselves literally, it can enable us to do this, but in that case we forget that our language is always connected to our feelings. Questions like ‘How old are you?‘ aren’t really connected to our feelings, they are pure factual questions which aren’t related to our subjective experience. Concerning our subjective experience, it is quite hard to express it in other languages, it would be better to say: impossible. Our subjective experiences are direct, and our most direct language is our first language. If we stumble and constantly have to hesitate about which words we have to use, it’s not possible to express ourselves, since expression constantly changes. If we feel something strong right now and we want to express it, we need to do that right now, if we hesitate about which words to use, we aren’t only restricted in expressing the feeling, but we are also already experiencing another feeling. Together with this, we could say that our thinking is related to our upbringing and our first language. Our first language is the language in which we think, and because our language contains a lot of words of things which it’s population is related to, our language determines the way how we think. If I grow up with the Greenlandic language, fish will be more important for me than if I grow up with, for instance Spanish. Although there might be countries or places in which Spanish is spoken where fish plays an important part in daily culture, it’s not as important as in a lot of parts of Greenland. That’s also the reason why people who grew up with Germanic languages can more easily learn other Germanic languages than a Slavic language, because the Germanic tribes are in fact all the same kind of people and the languages are quite similar to eachother.

Starting to speak, stopping to understand – Although we started to speak a language in order to understand our group, it stops in other groups. If I try to speak German with some person who lives in India, it’s quite obvious, unless he learnt German, that he won’t understand a lot. Maybe he will understand a word like ‘Vater’ (father), because this word is of Indo-European origin and is also present in some languages in India, but that’s as far as we can get and normal communication won’t be possible. We really have to learn eachothers language or teach ourselves sign language or just, as a last means of communication, try to make things clear with our body language. Even our body language creates problems, in Eastern Europe some gestures have a completely different meaning in comparison with Western Europe.

General understanding however, is a thing which we will always have in learning another language, and we will always make other people happy when we attempt to make something clear in their own language, thus in their own way of thinking. That is also the reason why people like it when another person speaks their language, not only because the person shows that he or she doesn’t restrict him or herself to his or her own language, but he or she also wants to try to think in the same way as the other and try to give some direct communication, which facilitates the communication for the other person. In that way it is always an advantage to learn other languages, although we can’t really express our emotions in the way we want.

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