Saturday, August 28, 2010


Language, I would venture, is humankind’s greatest technology, being a function at first of our evolved vocal apparatus, then later of our further invention of alphabets and literal transcriptions of our speech, which can disseminate and preserve what otherwise would soon fade from our hearing and memory.

First we invented talking, later writing. Besides that, we invented more specialized and less literal “languages,” such as music and mathematics as further means to give articulated expression to different aspects of our intelligence.

Add to those the “languages” of visual arts, which may have preceded verbal language, perhaps as a representation of unvocalized gestural or sign languages. Or so I speculate. Happily there are communications scientists to consult who know more accurately the history and character of our various human languages, both oral and otherwise.

What I am pondering here, and marveling at, however, is the wonder of our having any language at all, and the scope of what this capacity allows us to experience, so far beyond what, let’s say, my dogs can experience, or any other creature, even chimpanzees and whales. Of course, chimps and whales appear to possess kinds of intelligence and modes of communication beyond our natural range, but these modes are not literal nor transcribable nor preservable—and thus not capable of being consciously improved upon over time.

Even as I write these thoughts, or rather take vague, unarticulated notions “in my head” and extrapolate them into a line of words across a page, thought is birthed; it shapes up visibly as language affixed now to the page and available for my reflection and my communication to you.

How grand is that! Presto! Out of nowhere something tangible and meaningful appears, through the magic of language.

* * *


What keeps my skittering brain going down one track,
Making a train of thought, not just a gust
Of swirling, wordless notions, but a stack,
A rack of solid thinking and not dust?

It’s writing on a line across a page
In measured paces as the thought shapes up,
For only then can mind and form engage
In tandem, marching sensibly—Hup, hup!

Instead of lightning bolting from the sky,
The energy of thought runs through a wire,
Makes heat and light for all to profit by,
Letting aspiring intellect reach higher.

Though talking also clarifies the mind,
It’s writing by which thought is best designed.