The forgotten dimension

In present-day theory of language an important dimension of language, actually the very source of language is omitted. Language is studied in its logical coherence. In that case a sophisticated system of formal logic is developed. Besides that existing discourses are distinguished and identified. Different groups of people use a different discourse and giving different universes of meaning. Finally the structures of language are studied, structures of meaning, grammatical forms etc. It is not studied, however, how language comes into existence and from what source it springs.

The consequence of it all is that language is only studied as past experience or as a fixed system of structures. The living process of language escapes this sort of analysis. In the living process of language expressions can shift in meaning easily from context to context and moment to moment. If in a new context somebody adds a new meaning to an existing expression, we pick it up easily, as if we all noticed the change in situation without much effort. For instance, when the word environmentalism entered our vocabulary, we were already familiar with the word environment. Everybody would immediately think of concern about the environment by using the word environmentalism. But nowadays we also speak of different electronic environments. Again a shift in meaning which is easily picked up, although all of a sudden the screen has become an environment now. What is the source of all those changes?

New words are invented (or shifts in meaning) with new experiences. The more new, the more difficult it is to find the new word. Confronted with severe problems we have difficulty in finding the right names. The newer the problem is the more difficult it becomes to capture it in old terms. Often the first impression makes us silent and speechless. In such a situation new terms come up as a new solution or at least a new direction to search for a solution. New words are new marching orders. They put new approaches on the agenda. The source of it is the human soul, confronted with an unheard-of problem, seeking for words. In that sense imperatives that need a solution are the source of language. Creative language finds new words for naming our predicament. For instance, in the midst of racial discrimination the word negro couldn’t have a future anymore. The creative act consisted in taking the originally pejorative expression black and turning it into a name of honor. In this way black could become a saving word. It became an imperative for a new way of dealing with each other.