Forget the symbol for a moment: the thing in itself naturally bears meaning. The symbol used to designate it is dependent on the thing in itself for meaning.
Language is comprised of an agreed-upon system of symbols dependent on those external things-in-themselves for meaning. It necessarily limits what a person can convey to another — there is a set minimum amount of noise that will be present in every transmission.
Art in its more conventional images (such as drawing, painting, sculpting, and so on) could be seen as a language, but it is a language that only the artist can translate without that remaining, omnipresent, set-minimum degree of noise. Unless you’re talking to yourself, you can never make a crystal clear transmission to a person through this medium as you can with yourself. There is always that noise, that cacophony, and the higher the degree of ambiguity in a stimulus, the more malleable it is in the receiver’s mind. And the subconscious has busy fingers eager to see the soul’s reflection, if only in a metaphorical mirror.
The artist makes his art so the world can see the artist — and the world only sees itself.
As for language as it is typically seen, I’m not as sure as many that we need it to talk with ourselves, or even other people. But I know it helps. Language undoubtedly enriches our capacity to explore ourselves as it offers a medium beyond our natural one, but by necessity if this is true and we elect to only communicate with ourselves as we must communicate to others — through language — and cease utilizing our capacity for “wordless thought,” we are using what could serve as a tool for us as a self-imposed prison.
Yet the part of me that believes this is indeed true also confesses that we reach our hands beyond the bars of the cage every now and then. After all, if that were not the case, there would be no real evidence suggestive of wordless thought. We often find ourselves incapable of remembering a certain word and yet even with considerable effort cannot define that word accurately enough with words within reach in our linguistic arsenal despite the fact that we know what we want to mean by that word. If you know what you want to mean before you say it, there must be a primeval form of thought that exists beyond the realms claimed by language.
If there is no thought outside the realms of language that would mean that we would be bound to thinking within the parameters of our vocabulary. Even if we knew our native language through and through, we still would find ourselves behind the bars of a conceptual prison, for there are other lands where they speak other languages. As any work of literature translated from one language to another or the subtitles at the bottom of a foreign film should reveal to you, some words of other languages do not have correlates in our language and vice versa. You might choose a word that could maybe pass as some close relative of the word in that other language, sure, but the point is that there is always something lost in translation.
There is always noise in communication.
This is why it starts to piss me off a little when a person complains about foreigners in this country who, so the person says, “Needs to learn the language.” No, like many other countries do, we need to learn more than our native language. It is well known that a child can pick this up far easier than adults, so why not utilize that window to its full advantage? Teach them dozens of different languages.
We don’t need one shared linguistic system that everyone on the planet adheres to, we need an environment of diverse systems to overcome our obstacles in communication. But they only serve their purpose if we learn other languages. People who speak a foreign tongue can think things you cannot because you have not picked up the tools that are there for the taking. With every new word, the kind of things you can think about increases, and not by a mere fucking factor of one, either. Thoughts aren’t words, words make up thoughts, and so the thoughts potentially possible with the introduction of your new word are found in the relations the new word can make with words already in your linguistic arsenal.
I get how we built language, at least in theory, by pointing to a certain object and always making a specific sound, for instance, and in so doing creating a “word.” . But as is obvious, we don’t only have objects in language. We have emotions. Higher concepts. How did a person indicate “love” or “hate”? It cannot be a shared experience in the conventional way, as with a sound we all hear or the taste of a fruit we could all take a bite out of. We can’t taste, touch, see, smell, hear or even point to an emotion. So did we note the facial expressions we ourselves make when we feel a certain way and finally made the connection when someone else made those same facial expressions that they were feeling as we did? That might explain why nonverbal communication is said to make up 93% of our communication.
Language is just written or verbal shorthand for a complicated network of perceptible indicators for this or that imperceptible other-person’s subjective experience. All words, sentences, and so on are by necessity mere summaries of thoughts. Just ways of “pointing at the moon,” as the Zen would say. Nonverbal communication points at that same moon from a different angle, that’s all, but it helps with the refinement of the overall transmission.
More languages, more words: more fingers.