Sunday, August 29, 2010

Language Transcending Time

After class on Friday I was thinking about language and its relation to time. I concluded that language, either spoken or written, has the power to transcend time. It is only upon the death of a language that time overpowers language.

A good example of this was the Rosetta Stone discovered in 1799. Before its discovery Egyptian Hieroglyphics were a complete mystery and without ability to read the hieroglyphics the entire ancient civilization was also a mystery for thousands of years. It wasn't until this stone was discovered that we could read Egyptian. Once we were able to read ancient Egyptian the entire history and civilization of ancient Egypt was alive once again and all because of language.

Language can bring us to any place in time solely through communication of ideas, emotions, and concepts. Think of all the times we read or say something and it makes and impact on us. We can all remember something mean or hurtful someone said to us and we can relive the hurt just by remembering what was said; it may have been years prior but we still remember as if it were yesterday. Written/recorded communication is one of the most immortal forms of language. It could have been something written hundreds, even thousands of years ago and yet it still carries an enormous impact. Religious texts are prime examples, The Bible, The Qur'an, The Torah, and many others are all ancient writings but still manage to impact human life thousands and thousands of years later - all because of language.


Scott Abbott said...

this makes me think of the hermaneuticists, the german 19th-century people who called their attempts to understand ancient cultures from their documents by a name tied to ghe greek hermes, god of messages and guidance.

Carmell said...

We can never occupy the same moment again, as far as I can tell. Because of this, I still hold to my perspective that regardless of the brilliance of an idea or the sheer humiliation of a comment directed at me, what it means changes the moment that the moment has passed. Language may exist in time and be able to transcend "the times," but language is meaning at its core, isn't it? And meaning, I believe, does not exist as an objective reality. The NYT's article references the differing perceptions of color people have depending upon the definitions of colors in their languages, while a color itself has a set empirically-identified identity on the electromagnetic spectrum. Yet the color perceived cannot even be proven to be the same experience to each individual, regardless of language.

In this way, I see the example of the film, Memento, showing our unsettling ability to manipulate ourselves and the disturbing consequences it can have upon us as we shape our destinies. Such manipulation is based upon the meaning we give to the thoughts upon which our objective language is built.

Scott Abbott said...

sheer humiliation aside (since it doesn't constitute an objective reality), I like your attempt, Carmell, to see language as tied to the individual who creates it and thus timebound and thus never the same.

but I'm left wondering if that strict separation between objective and non-objective reality doesn't leave us unable to deal with things like the rosetta stone. it's a stone with words and sentences scratched on it. those words and sentences exist just as much as does the stone. and a hermeneutically minded reader of old texts does his or her best to understand what was meant, using the hermeneutical circle and other such devices, including measuring of one's own prejudices against the ideas of the document.

if there is no meaning to access, then why do we write and talk?

and if our experiences of color are absolutely individual, then why do our cultures gather meanings (like the blue and green in the NYTimes article)?

for me, it's not an either/or thing. we can't occupy the same moment again and we work very hard to do so. meaning is not objectively real and it can transcend time.

strict dichotomies ought best be left to the plant kingdom: monocots/dicots.

Ty G said...

Carmell, I see your point about time and never being able to occupy or duplicate the time in which the language was used or recorded. We try effortlessly to relive what has gone by through various forms of communication - while we can get close to reliving the past, it is the past and can never be duplicated in its exactness.

I disagree though with language and its meaning, which may not exist in objective reality. I thought that the meaning is what can transcend time, which is why I used the examples of Holy Texts. They have existed for thousands of years and human kind is still finding and rediscovering meaning in something written long ago. It is the meaning that transcends time; the language is merely the tool through which we find the meaning itself. How else could we have world wide religious movements? The languages are different but the meaning behind how something is communicated is the same. With the Rosetta Stone the meaning was there but human kind lacked the ability to find it. It wasn't until we could read the language that we were able to unlock the meaning, which is how time became obsolete. Feel free to comment - I really value everyone's ideas...