Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Personal Dialects

Imagine that I say a word to you. Imagine that this is a word that you know very well -- you have heard it many times in many contexts, and you have naturally learned the concept that it embodies. Now imagine that I have learned the word in the same way, gleaning the definition by seeing it applied. If we each learned it through our own experiences, and your life has been different from mine, is it even possible for the word I know and the word you know to be exactly the same? I don't see how it is.

Let's take the idea further. Imagine that I say a sentence to you. This sentence is composed of many words, but all of the words are ones that you and I both have learned in the courses of our lives. Furthermore, the grammar of it -- the meaning intrinsic to the order in which I placed the words -- is something that you and I have learned to interpret by means of our personal experiences with language. If the meanings of the words are dependant on our unique pasts, as is the way these words interact with each other, then you and I will see two entirely different meanings within the one sentence.

One more step. Imagine that you read a blog post that I write. It is composed of many sentences, and each of those is composed of many words -- and the words and sentences alike draw from our unique pasts to gain meaning. These sentences are strung together, each with individual meaning, but placed in a particular order with common threads running between them to carry a larger message. As with the smaller parts, the way we form the singular thoughts into a larger mosaic depends entirely on how we have learned that statements fit together. From the top to the bottom, the blog post is built from pieces that the two of us can never see in quite the same light.

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