Martin Rue

I build things on the internet.

An Ode to Language

Language is profoundly human, historical and vast. When I ponder that, questions such as "What exactly is it?" and "Where did it come from?" fall out, and lead me into some deep rabbit holes.

Exploring these questions cements for me how interesting and profound language is, and why it's one of the most important things we have.

Consider for a second that every human on this planet has a simple ability that's directly responsible for most of our experience in life. We can form shapes with our lips, tongue and jaw and push air from our lungs into that carefully crafted shape.

What comes out is a sound. A very intentional sound. We group these together into chains of sounds, which carry something essential to our existence – our thoughts, ideas, feelings and beliefs.

These chains of sounds leave our mouth and begin a voyage through the air; destination ear.

On the other side of the equation, our ears receive these utterances and we are able to decode them back into the feelings and meaning the speaker intended. Well, most of the time.

I don't know about you, but that blows my mind.

In much more recent times (the last 5,000 to 6,000 years), we developed technology to capture these sounds in another form: writing.

As I write these words I say them to myself in my head, as you probably are now while reading them. Writing + reading is a codified version of our speech + hearing abilities, allowing language to spread even further and be used in even more ways.

Think about that for a second. What an unbelievable technology. Maybe it's weird to think of writing as technology at all, but what else should we call it?

And without writing, without a way to preserve, transport, and spread our ideas to more people, it's hard to imagine how the world of 2024 could have ever stood a chance.

It's still debated where our ability for language exactly came from. Some believe it occurred in its early form with the Homo habilis species, others believe it happened during the Homo erectus period, or indeed from us modern, hip Homo sapiens.

Whether our ability for language is an evolutionary adaptation in the brain, or whether through an insanely deep passing down of a skill we learned, language feels so innately human and profound that where it came from doesn't really matter.

Language is everywhere and it's an essential part of everything we do. Very few things in our lives aren't, at their core, just an application of language.

Consider our ability to form societies, raise children, build cities, live and work together, travel across the planet, the internet, AI. All of this is possible due to this thing we call language – by this ability to take our thoughts and ideas and transfer them from one brain to the next.

Not to turn the excitement up to 11 here, but consider too that we have different languages. Two humans may possess different languages with no overlap. What does that mean? What's the effect? Do those two humans think differently?

All of these questions are super interesting, and can reveal surprising things about us, about our world, and even about seemingly unrelated physical abilities that our languages bring about.

In summary: language is everything. It's the gateway to most of our experience in this life and on this planet. How can anyone not be excited at having an ability to transfer ideas, learn, share and work together.

This was an ode to language.

To its importance, its awesomeness, its power. Language is an incredible tool, one we barely even notice day-to-day. I wanted to pause and reflect on that.

Now go study, go practise, go learn a new word, maybe even a new language entirely. Broaden your language and you broaden your world.


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