Discussion 4: Language


Discussion IV


As a person who has been obsessed with language all of my life, I understand the power of words. Just a few sentences can make someone scream in anger or fall in love. Language holds immense power. The themes presented in these works showed language in an unusual way. Speech Sounds and Darmok made me understand my relationship with my autistic nephew and how language is essential to being able to form emotional bonds with others. Embassy Town taught me to see how lying is a form of individualistic self-preservation and, Babel-17 depicted language as a weapon. Unlike other stories we have read, these are not fictional themes.

In the world of Speech Sounds, language had become incomprehensible after a virus was used as a bioweapon by the Russians on the US population. Humans unable to speak, reverted back to the cave man era. Their lack of emotional expression created a world full of anger, fraught with misunderstanding and loneliness. While they still communicated in the forms of grunts and hand signals, this was never sufficient to express deeper emotions that were needed to calm their furious disputes. I could have sworn the author, Octavia Butler had been inspired by autism, but she wasn't. Autism is very similar to the behavior depicted though. My nephew Alex is extremely bright. He has been writing random words and drawing realistically since the age of two but he cannot express any emotions through speech. In an autistic child, you see how expressing emotions verbally is an essential part of human relationships. Like in the story, he also uses grunts to communicate, thankfully with therapy, he has learned to say a few words. He can now say things like, "No", "Give me phone for Pokemon", or "That's mine." He mostly squeals when he is happy, screams when he is upset and jumps up and down for various other emotions. And just like in the story depicted, he has a tendency towards violence hitting and biting others out of frustration. When Alex was born, I was so excited to have a nephew that I could teach my ways. I soon learned though that this dream would never come true. I have no idea what is going on in his head. No one does. He has no way of expressing the emotions needed to form a lasting bond with those around him. He is my nephew, and I see him every week, but he is a complete stranger. Alex is an impenetrable firewall. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I would never hear his thoughts. I think we all had high hopes that one day he would start talking, but 13 years later, that hope is fading for all of us. Language is essential to forming human bonds. Without it the deep connection between people which is intrinsically tied to empathy, compassion, and understanding is absent.

Star Trek's Darmok teaches that having language is what creates compassion and understanding between people. Communication is the backbone of empathy. It is the reason that you love others. When Picard had no comprehension of the language of the Tamarians, he thought the Tamarian King wanted to fight. It was only through gaining knowledge of the language and syntax that he realized the Tamarian king was really a friend trying to bond through a battle against a beast. I never thought I would like Star Trek, but this episode brought tears to my eyes. The King gave up his life in order to create understanding between his people and Earthlings. It was something he thought was so important because they were such a lonely misunderstood race that he died so that there would be an alliance. It was really beautiful.

What struck me the most about Embassytown was the fact that lying was depicted as an abstraction of language related to individuality. it makes sense though because people lie for self-preservation. When EzRa appeared to the hosts so self-confident and distinctive in their words they saw a reality that was previously hidden. They suddenly understood their individuality. Lying became an addictive drug because they became self-aware. It showed them they were singular beings who were unique and capable of their own self-interests. They were addicted to the feeling of expressing individuality. Usually, Ambassadors were clones of each other, created to look as similar as possible, but EzRa were two very different-looking people. Maybe this was the Hosts natural path of evolution though. Lying and individuality gave the Hosts a fuller language that had fiction, poetry, and stories of gods. They were hungry to be different, and EzRa was their dream come true. So he had to die if they wanted their culture to remain as it was before.

Babel-17 was an alien weapon in the form of a language that would bury itself in the mind of the host and separate their personality creating a sleeper agent intent on destroying their own alliance. It was extremely concise and made the protagonist in the story, a poet, interested in learning it fully. It buried the language deep within her like a virus. Using language as a weapon has been used extensively by the CIA and is recognized as a form of espionage and mind control. There is more to language than a lot of people know.

The idea of language is so vast and holds so many different possibilities. There are innumerable topics to explore. It is an essential part of the human psyche. I have often wondered often about the first humans who created the very beginning of the language we have today and I must say, it wouldn't surprise me if aliens were the precursor. Maybe language is actually more science fiction than we ever thought.

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