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May 29, 2017

8:52 PM

Is language an expression of humanity or of lunacy?

Francisco Miraval

In the subtitle of his book Serendipities, Umberto Eco suggests there is a connection between “language and lunacy”, as if (I say, with my apologies to Eco) every expression of human language was simultaneously and unavoidably also an expression of human craziness.

There is nothing wrong with that idea, of course. After all, people all over the world and throughout history have accepted or denied certain words depending on accepting those who said those words as “inspired” or as “possessed”. In many cases, the difference between one and the other is based only on the perception of the person establishing that difference.

From a different point of view, we can say that, even when other living beings on this planet also possess their own languages, human language is, for many reasons, different from any other language. At least, that’s what we think and teach, even to the point of saying that language is the key element for humans to be human.

In fact, we could say human language could be described even as “anti-natural”, so to speak. In fact, stories, tales, and legends from ancient times say that the first human needed divine help to learn how to speak, because, it seems, before that time, all dialogue was exclusively a dialogue within oneself.

Regardless, we humans have created, used, and discarded and forgotten thousands and thousands of languages during the history of humankind. And we even created new language for the purpose of improving, overcoming, and perhaps eventually replacing all natural human languages.

In other words, what we can’t say with words, perhaps we can say it using mathematics. So, it has been said that if we are ever in need of communicating with an extraterrestrial intelligence, we shouldn’t use English or Spanish, but mathematics, which we could use as some kind of universal language.

In my opinion, based only on my ignorance, such a supposition about our potential ability to speak and understand a universal language is where we should look to find the connection between language and lunacy.

The connection has nothing to do with assuming the idea of a universal language is a “crazy” idea. The connection is revealed precisely because we don’t speak un universal language and, therefore, everything we say is always limited by (“filtered” by) our ability to use a language always situated in a particular culture and a particular moment in history.

Language, therefore, could be understood as a kind of straitjacket, forcing all reality to limit itself to our language. Paraphrasing Wittgenstein, language becomes the limits of our world. In that context, language can only present a distorted version of reality, even if we don’t acknowledge such distortion exists.

Living inside a distorted reality and accepting that self-fabricated illusion and the only and authentic reality is, literally, pure lunacy.

And in our individualistic, narcissistic, social media obsessed, and techno-globalized world, each expression of lunacy is planted again and again with each word we say, transforming our individual lunacy in unavoidably collective craziness. 

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