Tag: Language

We live in language

The one good thing about having to drive to Wolverhampton and back instead of taking the train is that I get to listen to Radio 4. I love Radio 4. I grew up listening to Radio 4. Radio 4 is my comfort blanket. I was put to sleep with Radio 4.

But despite its soporific effects on me, Radio 4 is great for encouraging thinking. In the mornings on my way to Wolverhampton, I get to hear all sorts of interesting stuff about science, politics, philosophy and current debate. In the evenings, I generally get to catch up on the news. The mornings are the best.

This morning Melvin Bragg kept me company as I sailed down the M54 talking to a random woman about Hannah Arendt. I knew very little about Hannah Arendt before today. I had heard of her. I was aware that she was a writer and political theorist / philosopher but that is as far as my knowledge of her went. I now know a lot more about her thanks to Radio 4 and that is Not A Bad Thing.

Hannah Arendt was actually a very influential political philosopher. She was born in Germany but fled to Paris in 1933 and then emigrated to the US eight years later. She became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York (lucky cow, she was). She wrote a number of relatively well-known philosophy books but also lots of essays. She was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy but she was also a fan of Heidegger, and more than a fan at times too. I am also a bit of a Heidegger fan for some of his thoughts on ‘stuff’ and philosophy as I am a little bit obsessed with ‘stuff’.

Hannah Arendt with her cat

Hannah Arendt with her cat

One thing that was mentioned on the radio today though that struck me as particularly interesting about Hannah Arendt is that she argued that ‘we live in language’. She was very interested in the internal dialogue that we have in our heads when we are thinking, as were the Greeks. I like this idea. I agree; we do ‘live in language’. Language is all we have in our heads. It is what keeps us awake. It is what stops us from sleeping. It forms our dreams so it is still there as we sleep. Equally, as well as internal to us, language is everywhere around us: whether it be a visual language or a spoken / written language.

Language is also so much about interpretation. We read something, someone says something to us, we say something to someone, there will be an interpretation of that spoken or written communication which may or may not match the intent. Language is omnipresent. We cannot escape it. It informs our emotions, our reactions, our beliefs and our culture. If we’re not reading it, listening to it, speaking it or writing it, we are thinking it. What it must be like to live without language? But I would argue that if there is no language, the mind creates a form of language that does not use words, images or gestures. Language just evolves from whatever resources there are. Perhaps that might be sound, touch or raw emotion.

Philosophy has a lot to say about thinking and how we think, what we use to think and language. So this is a topic that I could think, talk and write about for hours. But I won’t.

I’m going to think about lunch instead.

You can verb any noun

This thought is related to the last thought about adding made-up words to the Oxford English Dictionary. I’ve talked about this before but this thought pops up every now and then (sometimes when I’m on the toilet).

The thought is: any noun (or adjective) can be verbed (that is, assuming verb can be a verb, which I think it can).

Calvin and Hobbes had an opinion on the subject

Calvin and Hobbes had an opinion on the subject

But, can any noun really be verbed? I’d like to think it can.  Not everyone likes nouns being verbed willy nilly without due care and consideration. Benjamin Franklin described the act as ‘awkward and abominable’.  However, the English language is constantly evolving and there has always been a certain degree of verbing going but it seems to be more prevalent recently, especially in the so called post-post-modern digital age. Here are some examples:

  • parent (the way I parent my children is regarded as low-maintenance)
  • trend
  • inbox (don’t forget to inbox me later)
  • message
  • card (i.e. footballers might be carded)
  • facebook
  • dialogue
  • action
  • tweet
  • sext (to text explicit images)
  • conference (lets conference about that issue)
  • table (to table a discussion)
  • chair (see above)
  • google
Let me google that for you

Let me google that for you

But as I say, verbing isn’t a recent thing. William Shakespeare verbed lots of nouns in his plays and in fact many of our accepted, but interesting, verbs came from him.  In Richard III the Duke of York says, “Grace me no grace, and uncle me no uncles.” I’m not sure that to uncle caught on though.

This got me thinking, is it possible to do the opposite, to noun or adjective verbs?

According to the World Wide Web, it is. I found some great examples:

  • That’s the take-away from today’s lesson.
  • We now need to consider the build.
  • Can you tell me the solve for your main issue?

They sound a bit odd to me now but perhaps in time they will become the speak of us all.