Words create worlds. What do you think of this?
Do you think that the words you choose in your everyday life are there just to describe the world you live in and your emotions and to help you communicate with others?
Well, at least this is what I thought about words and language until a few years ago. While studying literature theories and linguistics I first read about structuralism.
Structuralism according to Britannica is “one of several schools of 20th-century linguistics committed to the structuralist principle that a language is a self-contained relational structure, the elements of which derive their existence and their value from their distribution and oppositions in texts or discourse”.
One of the main representatives of the structuralism theory, Ferdinand de Saussure, supports among other things that our language does not simply record the world we live in but actually constructs it. He says that the meaning which is given to any object or idea is attributed to the human mind. According to his theory, this meaning is constructed from and expressed through the language and it is not in any way included inside the object or the idea.
If you take a few minutes to process the above thoughts you will understand what I mean when I say that your words create your world. I don’t know about you but to me, it definitely changed my attitude towards language and words, written and spoken.
Science and Convention
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”Socrates
When it comes to sciences, the definition of terms comes in a way that offers clarity and understanding. It couldn’t happen otherwise. No progress would ever be possible if they weren’t defined this way.
The same stands to a point for the terms used to describe our everyday life. I say to some point because even the most obvious and simple terms used could be the subject of a question.
Dr. Sebastien Christian in his TedX talk uses as an example the definition of a table. One might say that a table is a surface on which we place things. Another would add that it has four legs, and could be of several shapes and heights. But on a table, I might also sit or lie. Would that make it a chair or a bed? There are also tables with three, two, one, and zero legs. However, when we most think of a table we all have an idea about it. And this word “table” offers us some kind of common understanding about what a table is.
How Words Create Worlds
So, more or less about the everyday simple things, it is clear what something means. But what happens when we talk to other people or to ourselves about our ideas, our beliefs, and things we might think or want of them? Is our language able to communicate in clarity all those things to others?
The language itself and words of course can communicate everything no matter how complex or simple that is. But how would anyone be able to use the right words in any case or whether how anyone would perceive these words that is another issue.
One issue is that it definitely depends on the depth of the knowledge of the language each person has. But not only that, previous experiences and personal communication codes that somebody uses could fall under a totally different interpretation from one person to another.
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”Ludwig Wittgenstein
Nicklas Balboa and Richard D. Glaser in their article “Words Create Worlds -How love, consciousness and imagination play key roles in our evolution” state that “One of the most advanced cognitive functions we have is our ability to create, understand and share language. Words, despite their objective Webster definitions, have unique meanings to those that perceive them”.
Conclusion on Words Create Worlds
It is important for all us humans to understand that whatever we experience in this world is the subject of our personal translation. There is not only one way that someone can perceive something. From another perspective, everything can be the subject of question and judgment.
The whole world we live we create it mostly inside our minds. The way we see this world we created is what defines the way we act and react, what we dream of, and how we perceive our reality.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”George Orwell, 1984
Resources – Relative Articles
Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to literary and cultural theory, Manchester University Press, 2009