The Projection of Language

What we see in the world is heavily influenced by language. Consider the thoughts of Benjamin Lee Whorf, a chemical engineer by profession who studied linguistics at Yale in his spare time.

Whorf took a special interest in the Hopi language. One of Whorf's most interesting quotes shows how language defines our world, our reality, literally what we experience when we walk out the door or watch a movie or have a conversation.

We say "see that wave"-the same pattern as "see that house." But without the projection of language no one ever saw a single wave. We see a surface in ever-changing undulating motions. Some languages cannot say "a wave"; they are closer to reality in this respect. Hopi say walalata, "plural waving occurs," and can call attention to one place in the waving just as we can. -- Paper published by Standford University

Thing is, there's no such thing as a wave separate from other waves. But in current American culture, we believe in such separations and this is reflected in tiny aspects of our communications.

When you're writing, talking or even thinking -- consider what overall impression you want to give (wholeness? don't refer to a singular "wave"). Find another way to express what you mean to say. Words can and must align with concept.

Maybe you have one voice that speaks in distinct entities and separation (wave), and another that never does (water). Maybe you start every blog post or advertising piece or soliloquy with waves -- and end in wholeness.

It's up to the writer. The interesting part, the fun part, the meaningful part is to use language on purpose.

Kathleen Hurley