LANGUAGES ARE PROBLEMATIC
amar limbu (immortal)
Language is a system of communication with the "means" of verbal symbols. But language is complex and paradoxical. Hopi, the language of Pueblo Indians of Arizona in the US, consists of various grammars. For instance, the Hopi language doesn't have the same tense system, and a similar expression to express ideas like that of future and neither does the modern English language. They are expressed in different ways. In the Nepali language, there is a future verb but not in English. They express future tense saying either I will go home or I am going home.
On the ground of different grammars of languages, the speakers of different languages have different observations and evaluation of externally or physically similar acts of observation. The Chinese people say that the "grass greens', instead of saying that it "is green". They see 'green' as a process rather than a 'state'. Moreover, Nepalese speakers say 'My brother hungers", and are likely to think that it is brother who does that, and so on. Another striking example of dissecting the nature along the lines of language is with colours. We say there are seven colours because we don't have the idea of other kinds of colours.
Likewise, Black English speakers do not use "if" to make conditional sentences. Rather, they use the rising intonation to signal the conditional connection. In fact, modal auxiliaries in the English language are derived from content words. People can say one thing and mean another. They can use language connotatively, suggestively and in many other ways. Though the English speakers say that they take exams and the Nepalese speakers say that they give exams (as students), some Nepalese say they returned back to their home or home came whereas the English speakers say they arrived home. As we know home is static. It doesn't go and come elsewhere. It is after all the same thing they understand.
Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction who accepts the language as a system of communication, yet extends the problem of it. He claims that the knowledge of language and communicability and its meanings don't give the desired relation. Of course, the knowledge we acquire is not reliable because the language itself is problematic. When the bus we are getting on is not safe, how can you say that you are safe?
Language conveys a number of meanings from time to time and person to person. A question arises: Does the word "communication" give that determined meaning? Western metaphysics believes that communication is a vehicle for thought and passage of meaning. So, communication is polygenic or plural in nature. It is difficult to bridge gap between a reader and a writer. A text is implied by a writer and its readers infer from the text which may be different of the writer. Innumerable meanings can be produced from the text. We can say that communication depends on context but the context is never fixed, hence, communication doesn't communicate. This language is incapable of communication. In addition to these, underlying and surface meaning have, to an extent, helped to simplify the English language. "A fish is ready to eat." It is ambiguous.
We think also that communication conveys the intended meaning, but actually it doesn't. The person who we speak understands it in accordance wit the concept, thinking and context. What matters more is that limitations or orientation in language are not absolute, for, as long as competency is there. Performance will take place in whatever way. This is why it is wise to deconstruct the traditional idea of fixity of knowledge of language and communication capability or meaning. Today's knowledge will be insufficient for tomorrow and tomorrow's for next tomorrow.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE NEWSPAPER, REPUBLICA ON JULY 5, 2012.