Language is shaping us, just as much as we are shaping it. We use it to express our ideas and thoughts. It eases connecting with others. Language drives our thoughts. Language also picks up our words as we find a language to express our thoughts.
Over the centuries, language also becomes a memory for the Zeitgeist, major events, images, and the way to do things.
It’s an evolution that brought us new words, new idioms, and changed the original meanings. It’s an evolution that integrates diversity and reflects separation. We can see it reflected in the way that French and German influenced other languages. It also became visible in the way language was transformed during the period when Germany was separated into 4 occupation zones and later into two political systems. One of both actively seeking to influence language by inventing words.
Some of these changes are clear to us as they happen in our lifetime. But others are so ingrained in language that we’ll assume them to be how things are. It is how David Foster Wallace pictured it so well in his 2005 commencement speech with the question “What the hell is water?” a young fish asks the other fish.
Accepting something as normal creates a collective carelessness. An assumption that things are as they are for a good reason and that they should remain like that. It’s the will to stick to what is there without enquiring if it should stay like that.
Or as Eula Biss puts it “[..] part of the problem is the attitude is highly unintentional. It’s highly unexamined. It’s relaxing into your own privilege without even thinking about it.”
Every day we wake up to a different situation and a different self. But the differences being small, seem to be imperceptible.
And sometimes we wake up to movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and other kinds of revolutions. Inequality and a sense of injustice have become unbearable and action has been triggered by a spark representing the too much.
Seeking to solve the problem by policing language, defining what can be said or what can’t be said, seems to be delusional. In such matters just as much as in an everyday context. Our lack of awareness of language’s unconscious meaning for ourselves and more importantly, for the other leads to missing what the problem is in the given conversation.
The willingness to engage with the other is what transforms the situation on an individual level.
There is no reason to give up our own ability and responsibility to language. We are the ones that give it meaning. Conjointly.
It is as David Foster Wallace states, how we construct meaning is actually a matter of personal, intentional choice.