2011-04-28

Language, and our perception of things.

I was just kind of mulling over something I had read from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, talking about how we tend to feel a fondness for the past, because the language that we use was created to describe what was, not what is (because how can you ever describe what is, when it's changing instantaneously and constantly becoming what was) or what will be (since that's all just speculation).

This got me thinking a lot about language and our perception of things, and how they influence each other. It's a little bit difficult to think about expounding on this, as I have a feeling it gets way into our subconscious, but here are some thoughts.

I think that language plays a huge role in how we perceive the world around us. Our language reflects not only the physical objects and environment of the past (even if it's just some moments past), but also reflects feelings, thoughts, and cultural values that were shared by the people who have come before us, sometimes hundreds and hundreds of years before we were born. Not only the words that are available to use, but the grammatical structure, the usage of words and the sounds that make up a language reflect the people who have used the language. For instance, common modern English makes heavy use of the subjunctive mood in order to soften a sentence and make it feel more "polite". The Lithuanian language also has the subjunctive mood, but it is used much less commonly, and people are more apt to just state plainly what they do or don't want, what they are doing, what they want to see happen. The English sentence "If you could stop here, that would be great" would likely appear in common use in Lithuania as "Sustokite čia," or "stop here". This is just a product of their culture, and is not considered blunt or rude there, it is just how most people use language. You can see however, how these two different paradigms of usage reflect somewhat different views of how people ought to relate to each other, and certainly growing up with one paradigm will shape how you do, in fact, relate to other people.

Our minds think concrete thoughts by way of language. This is why so much effort was put into controlling and shaping language, for instance, by Soviet Russia, to name one instance. The idea is that, if you can control the language which a person has at their disposal, you can change what they are able to concretely think, what ideas they are able to express, and in turn, how they view the world.

There is a bit of a chicken/egg issue here though. Language is clearly not a static thing. Though in some languages, modern people can still read texts from half a century ago, language is always changing, and especially now with cultures interacting like they never have before, you see Japanese for instance, which has previously been a very homogenous language and culture, starting to feature Japanese-ized versions of English words. English is now a mixture of German, French, Spanish, Dutch and who knows what else. The physical world changes, and so our language must change to describe new things, new inventions, new discoveries.

Another issue at play here is that not all of our awareness of ourselves is contained within the words we know. Clearly we feel and are aware of things we cannot express in words, but we feel compelled to, and in some cases, this results in new language, people who are creative with expression in the form of words, who change what is possible with the language they know, or invent new language to fill in what their existing language lacked. I'm not sure if this kind of thing often changes language as a whole, I suppose it depends on the circumstance. Shakespeare, for instance, I'm sure changed the course of the English language, even if slightly.

Anyway, I could probably write hundreds of pages on this if I were to look at all the social and cultural influences, globalization, mass media, the internet... which I'm not going to do on my blog (or probably elsewhere, in reality). But I find it really fascinating to think about language and the roll it plays in our lives - I think many of us take language, and the usage of language, for granted, but I do really believe that our language effects us more than we realize.

2011-04-22

Easter

If there is any single "real" meaning of Easter, it is simply a celebration of life and the fertility of the earth, the renewal of things. Looking at the linguistic etymology, it is probably the celebration of a particular ancient Germanic goddess, a Germanic form of the proto-indo-european goddess of the dawn.

But that's not that important in and of itself. Mainly what I want to say is, before you go around talking about celebrating the "real" meaning of some holiday or tradition, think about whether there really is any single "real" meaning in an objective sense, or simply the meaning that you have ascribed to it for yourself. There is no problem with ascribing your own meaning to an event or tradition, in fact, it's probably a good thing. But to then go around parading that as the "real" meaning is a bit arrogant, I feel.

2011-04-21

One day...

One day I will die;
I may be eaten
by earthworms
caught for fishing;
the snare that caught
the trout
a man will use
to feed his family.

Nothing ever really goes away.

2011-04-17

Re-arranging

Within the last few weeks, we've nearly completely re-arranged our living room, as well as making our spare room a workable craft/sewing room for Trina. It's the usual Spring mix-everything-up time :)

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2011-04-15

Sometimes you have one of those moments...

...where life seems really, inexpressibly beautiful.

I had one this morning. I can't even really explain why it impacted me so much, as the circumstances viewed objectively are quite mundane.

It was another in a long string of steadily rainy, cold, gloomy spring mornings, and I was riding to work with my poncho on (which I typically don't do unless it's raining pretty hard, to give you some perspective). The traffic light crossing 12th at Irving wasn't co-operating, I couldn't get it to detect my bike, so rather than blow the light, I decided to turn right and go down through the Lloyd District to the Steel Bridge.

I was cruising across the lower deck of the bridge, just above the water, and there were two women in a crew boat on the river, gliding across the water. Somehow it just struck me as magic that they were seemingly effortlessly sitting on top of the water and pushing themselves across it, as if humans were made to do exactly that.

That's it. For whatever reason, that moment just hit me strongly with an "isn't life amazing?" feeling.

And really, it is.

2011-04-10

Life is persistent

I was asleep, but my wife got me well awake, and then fell asleep herself, and now I can't get back to sleep, so here I am. I've just been thinking lately how much I love the fact that life is persistent. This is something that has become really apparent to us from growing vegetables and things, as well as certain food projects like fermenting and culturing things. The world is just bursting at the seams with life. Life begets life, without much external effort to help it out.

It helps to balance out the strange truth that some things must needs die in order for other things to live. This helps me to be thankful for those things - I appreciate that reality, and I appreciate the life that is given to sustain my own.

Life is a strange and wonderful thing.

2011-04-06

New Life

In better news, Opal, the Jersey Cow we were getting our fresh milk from just calved today!

calf

What a beautiful baby calf!

So, Opal should be milking again very shortly, which means more fresh milk for us!

Tricky

It kills me how easily I can hurt people sometimes. How I don't always honor the trust those close to me give me. Getting closer to someone means opening up, and when you open up further to someone, you place a certain amount of trust in them, because the more you open up, the easier it is for them to hurt you. I try to be mindful of that, but I'm not always successful, and I apologize for that. Thanks to those of you that know me, and especially my dear wife, for being willing to trust me, even though I don't always deserve it. It means the world to me.

2011-04-05

Are we defending life?

"Are we defending life
When we just pick and choose
Lives acceptable to lose
And which ones to defend?"

-Derek Webb

There are so many "acceptable" casualties every day it makes my head spin. From wars to traffic to something as seemingly simple to remedy as starvation.

How is it that so many of those are made acceptable by nothing more than our desire for convenience and our ability to take what we want?

Glen Phillips - Duck and Cover



Someone's in the backyard banging on the door
Daddy's gone away, he's coming back no more
His baby's curled up on a stranger's floor
Momma's thinking family dinners weren't too much to ask for

Everybody here's got a story to tell
Everybody's been through their own hell
There's nothing too special about getting hurt
But getting over it, that takes the work

One way or the other we'll all need each other
Nothing's gonna turn out the way you thought it would
Friends and lovers, don't you duck and cover
Cause everything comes out the way it should

Blessed are the humble, blessed are the meek
Blessed are the hungry, blessed are the weak
Blessed are the ones on the other side
And blessed are we just for being alive

One day I stopped wanting anything at all
The heavens opened up like a waterfall
No use in worrying about when it ends
Just for now be thankful for what I get

One way or another a man's gonna suffer
Makes no difference the way you wanted it
But friends and lovers, don't you duck and cover
Cause everything comes out the way it should in the end

Seems like life is a palindrome
Cry when you die, cry when you're born
In between it's all about the ups and downs
Add them all together, they'll cancel each other out

One way or another, one way or another
You won't get what you wanted, but you'll get enough for sure
One way or another, the winter pays for the summer
Won't get what you wanted, but what you got'll be good

Someone's in the backyard banging on the door
Daddy's gone away, he's coming back no more
His baby's curled up on a stranger's floor
Momma's thinking happy endings weren't too much to ask for

2011-04-04

Make a joyful noise...

I have so much to be joyful about. I feel tentative about letting go and feeling it - there are a lot of things that could go wrong at any moment. Still, why not rejoice when there is good reason for it? So I'm working on letting myself, bit by bit. It's harder than I'd expect, but very good.