Soothing Music

When I attended musical appreciation at school the scientist in the group came up with a definition of music – ‘noise with rhythm’. Our teacher refined that to ‘noise with rhythm meant to be listened to’.

I remember thinking the definition was incomplete for how was this different to language? The ideas around meaning came later to me when I was actually at university and not in a general studies course during A Levels. We are bound to seek for a meaning, in everything. That is why we have music because we imbue noise with rhythm and listen to it for pleasure or warning. That is why we have gods, to explain our feelings of insecurity and explain away our fears of death.

We can always come up with a trite definition that strips the humanity away from the defined. But then we lose the fact we are humans being very human. And since we are the foundation of every definition we need a clear definition of who we are first, before the definitions of anything else can make any sense at all.

Leap of Faith

One of the most significant developments in the written word was the placing of a space after each word. Something you would not even think about today but it does make all the difference to the ease of reading. But the difference between what we don’t think about because it seems so natural, and when those things came into being because a mind saw their effectiveness, is vast.

The mind that can take the world around them and change what they do to make it simpler or more effective is a unique mind. Even today when there is a large section of the population looking to do just this and not waiting for one individual to have an idea. It’s the kind of mind that would challenge politicians to try the truth and not worry about what their opponents will do with it. It’s the kind of mind that Gandhi had, to put into effect something everyone had long thought a good idea but never had enough courage to act out.

To be effective as a population we need to all be doing similar things in similar ways, to harmonise in order to establish a general basis for living together. But to be an effective thinker we need to be different because just to follow because that is what we are trained to do, has no relevance.

It is the difference between building a nation, and building a world.

Extending Speach

A few years ago a British magazine ran a brief and unscientific survey. They took two teenage boys, one who had left school early and one who was studying to go to university and asked them what law they would enact if they had the power. They both, in different ways, replied they would rather repeal a few laws first. What the magazine showed was that education did not display intelligence as both saw the same thing, but it did describe a completely different way of speaking and phrasing the response.

Now we all know that persuasive people are often fluent and engaging but we are not all aware that these things can be learned. That advanced syntax and grammar will actually help one to utilise language for the powerful tool that it is not just to communicate but to persuade. We often do not stop to think that for everything that can be said there are thousands of ways of putting it and every brain has a slightly different slant on how it uses its native language. It is these changes that drive the evolution of linguistic changes and describe idiom.

If you want to use language effectively it is not enough to now the words, you have to come at people from that slight angle of incidence that makes them listen.

Language Is Not Always Meaning

Of course the creation of languages by animals is one of the immense evolutionary steps in the development of the earth-bound brain. I recall reading a bit about what it is for a sentence to be ‘true’ (correct) and how truth and meaning go hand-in-hand and have noted where people think we limit our understanding by using words – that somehow words get fixed and connotation hinders a wider appreciation of meaning. To this extent language actually stops us thinking because we can never exactly convey exactly what we mean to another person by using it. The more we learn maybe we can get close approximations but there is a translation process going on in the other brain(s) that we have no control over.

But we also tend to think that ‘language’ is, so to speak, the only language. But not only is it not the only language animals use, it is most certainly not the language of the Cosmos. The language we have used to open up the Cosmos to our brains is mathematics, but the language it uses itself is almost unknown to us. It might be one of energy, or even of chromatography, or an amalgam of several different forms of communication or it might be that the Cosmos as such cannot communicate with living creatures directly.

Or it may be that one of those other languages, the language of feelings perhaps, would be a better gauge of communication with the creative energy around us than any other.

When A Word Is The World

Language changes. The factors in the change range from new words coming in from abroad and influxes of immigration giving new idioms and flavours, the natural propensity of the human brain to simplify spellings to match pronunciation and simple mistakes which by usage or disinterest in rules, become the new rules. Whatever the reasons without redaction Shakespeare would be hardly intelligible in places and completely foreign in others to modern English speakers so the changes don’t take more than a few hundred years to evolve quite a distance which, since we know every generation of teenagers makes their own contribution to difference, shouldn’t be a surprise.

Research into all the European languages derived at least one hundred elements that are thought to be a proto-language, dating back thousands of years, but giving us a small vocabulary that has left its presence amongst modern languages. Given that Sanskrit is close to Latin those words may even stretch to other parts of the world.

Of course we will never know for sure what words were first, though we can make intelligent guesses, but even if they were simple words of no great moment or thought their existence was mighty. No invention of the brain will ever match the incredible leap, the wondrous possibilities, the important strides that were built upon those words.

We would be nothing without them.

The United Kingdom

It is still a Kingdom, after a fashion, though the monarch doesn’t have people beheaded anymore they still anticipate the bowing. The Cornish who now do not differ genetically from their English cousins, still maintain a liberal tradition, the Welsh, descendants of the original inhabitants of the island, are penned up in some amazing small mountains and the Scots are for the most part still set apart but not sure why anymore. The old kingdoms have gone and the old Empire has been molded into an Commonwealth for economic reasons, but there are many reasons why the UK is still an impressive country.

Firstly she is politically relatively stable. Whilst not lacking in hypocrisy she still produces through her imperfect educational system leading minds of the world and a steady trickle of Nobel Laureates. Having run an Empire for its wealth London has marked out territory as a leading financial centre. She will keep this until Mumbai and Shanghai take over.

The countryside is beautiful though being  small country it is now impossible to walk twenty miles without crossing a  road. Long ago she slaughtered her bears and wolves and having no animals that are life threatening in the normal course of events she lectures other peoples on how to keep theirs.

But her priceless possession are her seasons and her language. She has ceded to the world a language of beauty and depth and the character of the future of this world will be largely decided though the idioms and derivations of the English Language.

Watch Your Language

It is everywhere, the endemic use of language to support a particular world view. I thought about this seeing someone ask if China was the greatest threat to the USA. Look at that word. Threat. Loaded with menace. It is filled with visions of ‘yellow men’ pouring out of tunnels to invade the USA. Challenge would have been a better word because it suggests the actual work of the USA is to meet China’s economic prowess.

One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. One person’s visionary is another person’s political nightmare. And the press are foul at the way they label people knowing the power they have to sway public opinion. The words they have to generate empathy against those to generate hostility. Psychologists and linguists understand the usage, the positive and negative words; the whole history of idiom and connotation.

Talking things up and talking things down. This is the work of people who have an axe to grind, who want you to be swayed to their opinion. They are not objective thinkers they are manipulators. And yet people the world over don’t particularly want the objective, rounded arguments so they can draw their own conclusions, they want to be spoon fed their view of the world. If someone on TV spouts what they already believe without challenging it, they love that person for being of like mind.

It seems the greatest threat to the USA is the one third of its population with so little education or so much money they think the Tea Party is about freedom and not about power.  Is about justice and not incipient racism. Is about defending a Constitution and not redefining it.

Once you know the words, you know the intent.

The Temptation Of Language

Of course it has been said before, mostly notably in recent years in the playwrights of the Theatre Of The Absurd, that we find it difficult, not easy to convey meaning when we talk and write, because the same word has nuances of meaning for other people they do not have for us. Equally, the words we use are often not up to the exacting task of conveying ‘exact’ meaning but merely get us into the general area of what we mean to say. A problem that lead GB Shaw to suggest expanding the English alphabet to give is more words and more discipline over their use. (Thereby getting over some of the problems of one word meaning more than one thing depending upon context, and so forth.)

I have noted in reading, how different writers writing the same thing, will place the words in a different order (most particularly sub-clauses) but even negatives can be written differently (the placing of ‘no’ and ‘not’) simply because their brains work differently.

And this is the hub of difference and maybe even talent – the way in which connections are made within the brain. Because just as the human being can generate an infinite number of languages so within a single language we can generate and endless supply of meanings.

Added to which languages are always changing. Meaning itself is evolving with us.


There is something insistent in our need to communicate. An endless desire to be understood. And languages reflect our needs and desires starting off being quite small and growing as we grow, like flowers opening their petals as the sun rises.

Many years ago they started looking closely at philology in Europe and the ways in which similar sounds mane the same things in different languages – reflecting a common derivation. They came up with ‘100 words’ that they thought were part of that distant proto-language we can never know. A little like word DNA. Languages have character and idiom is one of those strange areas where we learn the brain can conceptualise, in wholly different ways, things like time – whether it be something that flows or grows. And catching faint moments when Chinese relying upon sounds, sounds a little French. No one believes me when I say this!

But language also comes to limit, because we wrap up a particular meaning in words and we get stuck with them for a while. It takes creativity to break out of the limitations. Shaw felt English needed more letters. Pound wanted English poetry to be more like the Chinese.  Language is dynamic. The change is vital as our brains develop.

I just wish I was better at languages than I am.

Mobile History

Human beings love to communicate. It will be one of the great discoveries to find out which came first the voice or the brain.
Through stele, scrolls and printing presses to the internet, telephone and radio phone we will develop our ability to communicate easily with each other anywhere in the world and one day through the Solar System. We will chatter and gossip, gab and talk, discuss and lecture to our hearts’ contents. We are after all social animals if not always sociable animals and communicating is part of how we get along, how we manage to survive, how we live.
But it is surprising that we don’t think other animals do the same to any degree. We seem to think that because we can communicate so widely and because elephants don’t have cell phones somehow they don’t talk to each other, they don’t express themselves to each other, they don’t gossip.
And the reason we believe this is because we don’t actually understand them. All our communication depends upon understanding each other, translating to each other whatever we want to say into languages we can converse in. How bizarre that we don’t credit other species with the ability to communicate. We don’t think they have a grammar. We don’t think they have linguistic structure at all.
Yet we are all linked and nature makes us endeavour in similar ways to each other. To strive using similar biologies.
I would be very surprised if animals do not actually talk to each other in ways we could not even guess at.

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January 2019
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