There are many ways to look at language. Depending on the lens we use to look at it, different aspects of how language relates to our experience of life are revealed. If we use a lens that looks at language as a two pronged process, the first based on identifying objects and actions, and the second, optionally breathing meaning into these objects and actions, this lens enables us to clearly see the roots of human identity and culture. From this perspective, we can form a map that is able to move us more effectively in intentional directions.
The first aspect of language is in identifying objects and actions. This is the basis of understanding the physical world, the second aspect is the basis of identity and culture and also becomes the means by which we express the nature of our emotional being. A rock is a rock, unless it’s a special rock, imbued with meaning. A rock embellished with a story, and a history, with cultural significance can become an object for which people act to fight and die for.
Throwing is an action involving an object in motion, until and unless it is imbued with meaning. Throwing a coin into a fountain for instance means nothing more than the description of the process, unless that action also symbolizes the hopes for the thrower to realize a wish. If the act is connected to meaning it is then transformed from a mere act, to something significant. It is this significance, that the individual and cultural world is built on. This blend of objects and, or actions and meaning is the fire on which our individual and group identities, indeed our perception of consciousness is formed.
We could study the structure of the alphabet for an eternity and never have the key to know it’s significance unless we shares meaning. Meaning, until and unless it is shared is sterile. It can only live within an individual, but if it is packaged up and transmitted one to another, its significance can spread. It is this replication of, and defense of a particular set of shared meanings which defines groups or cultures. Our experience of life is determined by object and action to be sure, but it is also defined by meaning. Our cultural bonds grow in a soil of object and action, but the energy that drives the experience is built on meaning.
So powerful is this aspect of meaning in our lives, that we humans can suffer from ideological blindness where we become so lost in the meaning that we lose sight of their connection to objects and actions. At the extreme, it is possible to become infected by a totalitarian regime of meaning, that locks us in a frustrated prison of expectation and frenzy, where we fruitlessly attempt to get reality to conform using our ideals, not realizing that it is the loss of our moorings in reality that is the problem, and not reality’s failure to conform.
Reality sets the boundaries to the possible, it is up to us to appropriately blend significance into the mix of objects and actions to accomplish anything real. It is this awareness of the basis of expression that enables us to express a meaningful life.