Concerning the Limits of Language

Language is a peculiar thing. If you think about it long enough, you will realize that language is nothing more than a collection of common ideas and experiences represented by words. Every word is connected to an idea or experience that most, if not all, people have had. And if there is an idea or experience that someone has not had, they can usually get an understanding from someone else by means of comparing ideas or experiences they have had. An example would be a friend describing a dish they had the other night. The person hearing the story has never had the dish, so they ask, “What does it taste like?” The friend responds, “Well, it tastes like chicken.” Here a common experience was used to explain an uncommon experience.

It is here that we also step into the realm of synonyms and antonyms. In our language, there are many words or collections of words that can represent the same idea. Many of them are occasioned to refer to a more precise idea than their synonymous cousins, but their synonyms can be employed to shed more light on the idea if the audience has not had sufficient experience so as to directly relate to the idea being presented.

But what if someone has had an experience or idea that is so extraordinary that there are no words that can even come close to giving a shadow of an idea of what it is? What is a person to do then? It would be like trying to describe a color to someone who has been blind their entire life. I would suppose the only solution is to help the other person to have the experience themselves. In the case of our blind friend we would probably need to find a piece of music or an object they can feel that invokes the same feeling as the color we are trying to describe. This is perhaps the nearest they would be able to get to experiencing or getting an idea of the color.

I would suspect this is how many words come into existence. Someone has had an idea or experience that is indescribable and they help others obtain the same idea or experience until there are enough people who have had the idea or experience so as to assign a word or description to it and have everyone know what that word or description is referring to.

And here is the limit of language: words can only be used to describe common experiences or experiences that are relatively close to common experiences. Any new idea that has not been experienced by enough people to create a general understanding requires a re-creation through common ideas if there is to be any hope in the idea’s percolation.