Human beings are immensely shaped by the language they speak. Language is the primary mode of communication between humans, and is thus responsible for passing useful information from one being to the other. Darwin stated that survival of the fittest holds true, and in todayâ€Ÿs world with its cut-throat competition, our life is not only determined by how physically strong we are (which was entirely true for our ancestors), but also by our mental abilities. Any information may allow a person to have an (possibly unfair) advantage over his competitors, and thus humans rely extensively on language to give them the edge over their peers. Our present life is not as dependent on the object world, or on our social activities, as it depends upon the language, and the information it conveys. Therefore, it is safe to state that human beings do not live in the object world alone.
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People try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to explain all their actions/knowledge with respect to the language(s) at their disposal. It would be impossible for them to convey any information that they feel to the listener, unless and until they can put their thought in words. Every day we are forced to stop, and explain certain events using concrete words, and not simply by relying on the listener to „feelâ€Ÿ what is going through our minds. Human beings donâ€Ÿt communicate by mental telepathy, but by using words, and formulating our thought into sentences. On the other hand, some scientists have reasoned that humans also rely on gestures to convey a plethora of information, and it can hence be considered as a valid source of communication (probably of the same importance as the spoken language). This is a valid point, but human communication canâ€Ÿt be compared with communication of animals, which donâ€Ÿt have a known language system, and thus have to rely solely on gestures, besides other communication mechanisms. The information exchanged by the animals, even mentioned by Deacon (Deacon, 1997) refers solely on gestures, and thus the amount of information conveyed is not comparable to the information exchanged by humans.
The early Indian civilizations (especially the Harappa, and Mohanjodaro civilizations) as noted from the respective excavations carried out in Pakistan, and India were influenced immensely by the boundaries imposed by their array of language(s). They werenâ€Ÿt able to explain or understand events that their language didnâ€Ÿt have the means to describe, and thus termed them as godâ€Ÿs or the devilâ€Ÿs actions (for example, the reason why tides were related to the moonâ€Ÿs position couldnâ€Ÿt be deduced by them, as their language didnâ€Ÿt have a word that could describe an earthly event being dependent on an heavenly event). The funny thing is that many Mathematicians and astronomers, even the great Aryabhatta (inventor of zero) were able to formulate the relationships between the two, but failed to conceptualize a concrete theory due to the lack of sufficient vocabulary in the ancient Sanskrit language.
Computer programming languages (especially high-level languages like BASIC and Java) may be considered as an extension to the spoken languages. Programmers use these languages to convey information (as input programs) to the computer. The computer is entirely restricted upon the input messages of the programmer (or user), and has no additional means of obtaining „knowledgeâ€Ÿ. Thus, the computer can be considered as a being living entirely in a world based upon the language as the sole crux responsible for its existence. Moreover, computers are considered by many as human beings existing in a different dimension, and hence we can consider humans as immensely dependent upon the language for their existence too. Steven Levy in his book Hackers (Levy, 2001) interviewed stalwarts such as Richard Greenblatt, Bill Gosper, and Stew Nelson, all of whom agreed with the fact
that the computer is indeed a dumb beast which has to be fed all the information manually by using a well thought-out input mechanism (a well designed computer language, for example FORTRAN). They agreed that the choice of the language determines how well the computer understands you (for example, assembly language programs will not enable the computer to get a large range of information, while something from Java will). This reiterates the fact that any being (computer included) relies solely upon languages as an important means of communication.
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Bjarne Stroustrup (inventor of the C++ programming language), Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (inventors of Unix operating system, and the „Câ€Ÿ programming language) also agree that languages affect the being to a large extent. Stroustrup has stated that common-day languages should be as elegant as the C++ programming language, which would allow transferring of a plethora of information through unambiguous statements (akin to programming statements like the while statement, the for loops), and allow all humans to exchange and process information, without being at an unfair disadvantage with respect to their peer (just because their partner speaks a „betterâ€Ÿ language).
Ken Thompson tried his best to include the computer language correlations into normal, spoken languages, but failed miserably due to the existing convoluted nature of the spoken languages, and the fact that the majority of the population doesnâ€Ÿt think like the average computer programmer. Dennis Ritchie tried to convert all languages (programming languages) into a single language to prove his hypothesis that the use of a single language would bridge gaps between different programmers, and thus result in the construction of a utopian programming environment. The reason why this strategy failed was because programming languages, like spoken languages, have their own advantages and disadvantages, and shape (and are themselves shaped) entirely depending upon the nature of their users. Thus, each user wouldnâ€Ÿt be comfortable with any other userâ€Ÿs language, and hence will try her/his best to reject any use of the same. This shows that languages are indeed the center of our existence, as changing our language usage would imply the same effect as a change of the lifestyle for many, and thus implies that the language is as inherent part of our lives (if not the center of it).
Deacon in his book (Deacon, 1997) reasons that communication, and hence languages, open up the gates for symbolic representation. Symbols imply the use of languages, which would allow us to conceive the virtual world, a term used by Deacon to explain a world which can be explained, understood, and discussed. Language allows us to put a conclusive label on the world, and allows us to objectively debate, and understand the world completely from all possible angles. Languages allow users to share information amongst their group, which would then allow everyone to come on the same „understanding levelâ€Ÿ. Once each member has the same understanding as the other, the group members can grow (both individually, and as a group). Growth (personal as well as team growth) is a direct consequence of languages, as open communication, thinking, and an objective perception is impossible without the same. Deacon also adds that language allows us to generate an infinite variety of novel representations, and an inferential engine for predicting events, organizing memories and planning behaviors. As evident from his words, it denotes how important language is to our existence. It allows us to represent objects in a variety of ways. For example, if we compare speakers of languages like Spanish, and German (and donâ€Ÿt consider exceptions), the Spanish speakers have a tendency to see the world through rose colored glasses. Their language is extremely soft, and fluent (similar to Italian), and begets in its speakers having an inherent romantic aptitude towards life. On the other hand, speakers of German have a no-nonsense attitude towards life. Their language relies on strong, well-proven, practical notions, and the speakers reflect those notions in their everyday life.
This is not to say that Spanish speakers are „softâ€Ÿ, or German speakers are emotionless zombies, but the languages have an inherent nature which is then reflected on its speakers.
The speaker starts learning the language(s) when she/he is a toddler (Deacon, 1997) and the knowledge of languages affect her/his outlook towards life. They try and reason life through the tools
at their disposal (known languages), and are subconsciously dependent upon the languages, and their vocabulary to help them make sense of their surroundings. He added that given all circumstances as same (all members have the same resources at their disposal), the group of members that have a well defined communication mechanism are under any circumstance, better equipped against the vagaries of mother nature, than the group that relies solely on gestures and „feelingsâ€Ÿ to convey information to its members. At a time when existence wasnâ€Ÿt guaranteed, it was essential to find as many healthy sexual partners, and spread their seed extensively to guarantee that their genes would be transferred to the next generation. Food was scarce, and resources were usually dominated by bigger, stronger, and more dangerous animals. At such a time, communication helped humans to gang together, and defeat the common enemies. It provided them an edge over the other animals, and laid the foundation for the present day situation (humans perched upon the evolution tree). Humans required all the advantage they could get, as they were weak physically, and were susceptible to temperature changes. Language allowed them to have a common base of knowledge that could be modified and improved upon. This vastly improved their chances of survival, and started the downward spiral of the days of supremacy of brawn, and the growth of brains as the sole factor for determining which specie stands atop the evolution tree.
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An important point made by my group member Manuel was that human beings are indeed governed by languages, but the languages are not some gifts that were presented by god. He reasoned that as languages are invented by man himself (who was also governed at the time of invention by her/his surroundings, environmental conditions, availability of food, water, heating, standing in life, position amongst her/his peers, besides a plethora of additional factors), the languages do have a distinct taste of their inventor, and it doesnâ€Ÿt always happen the other way round. He added that as humans are the ones governing languages, and not the other way round, it is our brain power, and our general awareness that helped us reach to the top of the evolution chain, and not just the knowledge of languages. He is further supported by Deacon (Deacon, 1997). He stated that humans are giving an enhanced and undeserved importance towards the knowledge of language(s). Other animals are also able to communicate (communicate with a high probability of success at that), and can convey information using other mechanisms, for example, gestures. The theory that humans are atop only because of the knowledge of language, and that if any other animal wants to displace humans, it must develop a communication system of the same, if not of increased difficulty, with respect to the language system of humans, is highly flawed. If this were true, other animals that shared the same brain size as humans would devise a language system of their own to challenge humans.
Languages were introduced as a matter of choice (Deacon, 1997) and not as the means to separate the weak from the strong. They allowed humans to communicate using a more sophisticated and well developed system. Nothing more and nothing less. If evolution did indeed favor species with a well-defined language, we would have almost zero species that didnâ€Ÿt have a language system. On the contrary, other species are prospering, and it has nothing to do with a well-defined language system at their disposal. They use other communication mechanisms, and even though humans have been benefited immensely by having a language system, it is not the sole reason for their current situation.
On the other hand, Boroditsky in the article Linguistic Relativity (Boroditsky, 2003) improves the importance of language, and its relevance in shaping our outlook towards life. She included conclusive evidence as to whether language shapes thought, or in simpler terms whether space, time, shapes and substance, and objects are perceived differently be different language speakers. She cited the findings of Whorf (Whorf, 1956) and stated that Whorf reasoned that the categories and distinctions of each language govern how the users perceive, analyze, and act in the world. The speakers depend heavily upon the languages they speak to help them provide the tools to make sense of the world. She gave examples of how English, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, and Spanish speakers had different views of
perceiving space. The speakers perceived objects in space differently, and were influenced by their language vocabulary to make sense of what was in front of their eyes. She also added that infants who were not influenced by languages were able to make distinctions on a much wider scale, than their adult counterparts who were blinded by the masks that their known languages were putting in front of them. The same held true for time, and she used the examples of Mandarin speakers and their ability to construct vertical timelines while describing about events, while the English speakers have the tendency to construct horizontal timelines.
She added that shapes and substances had the same effect on humans. In English, objects have a singular and plural form, while other objects (like wax) may not be counted so easily. In the Yucatec Mayan, we didnâ€Ÿt have plural and singular forms, which may have hindered their ability to describe objects unambiguously. Objects share the same result. English is gender neutral, and doesnâ€Ÿt distinguish between males, and females. Hindi has two genders, (Male, and female), while German has three (male, female, and neutral). Some languages have even more, which further provides its speakers tools to distinguish between objects based on their gender (the objects also include animals, and other living beings). As is evident from her findings, language shapes our lives and governs how we perceive it. In order to objectively assess a civilization, we need to study its language in detail, as that would allow us to judge the intellectual abilities of the humans that were a part of that era, besides discovering other findings.
Whether languages govern how we think has been a topic of contention for many years. Recent findings, especially the ones from (Boroditsky, 2001), (Boroditsky et al., 2003), (Davidoff et al., 1999, 2000), (Levinson, 1996), (Lucy, 1992), (Sera et al, 2002), and (Slobin, 1992, 1996) confirm the same. Dilkina et al. in their paper titled How Languages Affects Thought in a Connectionist Model (Dilkina et al., 2007), tried to reason how languages govern our thoughts. Their main aim was to investigate the mechanism by which linguistic relativity phenomenon arose. They simulated Boroditskyâ€Ÿs data using a connectionist model, and their findings were correlated with connectionist networks, and their properties like distributed overlapping representations, and sensitivity to coherent co-variation. Their findings proved that the language(s) contribute vastly towards governing how the semantic system is represented, and organized. The methodologies used were network training, and network testing, which implies that the methodologies in question were based upon solid, scientific schemes, and the results are not a flash in the pan.
To conclude, it would be safe to reason that human beings do not live in the object world alone. They are governed to a large extent by their knowledge of languages, and one of the major factors that shape our lives is our knowledge of languages. Scientific proofs were provided in our paper, which prove that our statement is indeed correct. Language is an important tool whose usage has many repercussions, the most noteworthy being how its speakers perceive the world around them. Languages are responsible for making sense of our surroundings and provide us valuable means to categorize, discuss, and understand phenomena objectively. Thus, to reiterate, human beings do not live in an object world alone, and are immensely affected by the languages they speak/hear.