The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it. (Kevin Kelly)
Fragments from imaginary dialogues
“I’ve spent most of my life taking language for granted. As for most of us, it was invisible.“
“What changed that?“
“The catalyst was Viktor Frankl’s beautiful book Man’s Search for Meaning. That book had a profound impact on my life. It led to me to ask one of the big questions of my life:
What is meaning?
On a winding path, the question led me to language. In a moment of insight, I realized that we use language to shape our subjective reality. Jason Silva puts it beautifully:
The words you use to map reality affect your experience of reality. Words do not just describe; words are generative.
Language is for us like water to the fish, and just like water to the fish, invisible. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I saw the water.
Language and meaning are tools. We can metaphorically think of them as an instrument. Much like a cellist uses the cello to create music, people play the instrument of language to create worlds and experiences.
People play the instrument of language. I also play with the instrument itself. I play a meta-game [<link; short read].
I’ve been playing the meta-game on my own for several years now. But recently, while reading the Wikipedia article about affixes, I discovered… linguistics.
There’s a whole field of study about language!
It wasn’t on my mental map until then. Well, I did know what linguistics was, but I hadn’t connected it with my interests.
I started reading an introduction to linguistics and… I fell in love. Learning about the nuances and intricacies of language made me appreciate this beautiful instrument of ours more and more. Linguistics has also given me a new set of conceptual tools to play with and, more importantly, a new lens through which to look at language. Once you learn about morphemes, the structural components of words (the object of study for the branch of linguistics called morphology), the world of words will never be the same.
In the linguistics book I’m reading, there’s a fun example about the morphemes that make up the longest word in English:
– dis-establish – to reverse the action of establishing
– disestablish-ment – result of disestablishing
– disestablishment-arian – supporter of disestablishment
– disestablishmentarian-ism – practice of disestablishmentarians
– anti-disestablishmentarianism – opposition to disestablishmentarianism
– antidisestablishmentarianism-ist – someone who opposes disestablishmentarianism
“Linguistics marks the next stage of my exploration of meaning, and the next level of my meta-game. I call it Project Linguistics.”