As I watch my boys grow up, I notice that the words they speak are all nouns. Objects. And, it got me thinking: How important are words? What kind of world would we live in if words didn’t exist?
In this article, I go on a odd journey, a day dream perhaps, about the importance of words.
As a Writer…
In fact, I don’t think it is possible for anyone to imagine a world without words. Can you envision a place where words to describe things, actions, and thoughts didn’t exist? How would you ever describe such a universe?
Words ascribe meaning to tangible things in our lives. I write it down because I saw, thought, felt, or heard whatever it was. Words give concreteness to the ethereal, the eternal things, too.
Really, think about it.
Oh, are you using words in your head now?
It is impossible to communicate the absence of something without the medium for communication: language. Words. As a writer, no words, means no job. Imagine a photographer without light.
Words Develop Along with Meaning (Watch Babies)
As I see my kids grow, I realize that they have a lot to go for their words to truly communicate anything. A mere word here and there and a pointing finger only tell me so much. I want to touch, feel, play with, or eat that.
Without words, how do babies understand what is going on around them? They can’t! Not in a way that means anything real. Or does it.
This begs the deeper question (oh, so many questions!): Can your pain or pleasure exist if you didn’t have words to describe these sensations?
Words Give Value to Pain or Pleasure
The structure of words, the sounds and symbols of language are a bridge. They form a relationship between things we know in our heads (memory) and how we feel or perceive the world (inside or outside our minds).
Our nervous system must have a built-in, hard-wired a way to use words to ascribe meaning to internal states of mind. Memory and language must be linked. For example, you know and remember the meaning of the word “ouch”. It’s pain. In this manner, words allow us to place value on our key experiences.
This all reminds me of the movie, “Memento“, where the main protagonist struggles with chronic short-term memory loss.
Does Pain Exist in a World Without Words?
I wonder as I play with my children. Does their pain when they stub a toe have true meaning if they can’t describe it? Sure, they cry and weep. But, forgive my crass, as you could argue that crying is a reflex or instinct with no further depth than a naturalistic congregation of nerve firings.
Then, you wonder, if my reaction to comfort is similarly reactive, instinctual. Where does the meaningful depth in these events come from? The father-child bond, perhaps. Is that real without language?
In the animal world, the perception of pain is surely built-in, instinctual. There are physiological reactions to negative stimuli and dangers, e.g., fight or flight, high-pitched howls, and other vocalizations.
There are no words, however, in the sense that complex sounds or vocalizations cannot be turned into written poetry. A monkey cannot weave their pain into a sonnet and communicate those experiences to future generations.
There is No Answer
It may seem that I have asked more questions than I can answer. This happens a lot to me in the quiet hours of the night. Perhaps the topic of whether pain can exist without words isn’t something that can be addressed in a single article post.
Maybe there is no answer at all. Rather, this is one of those open ended questions that you can use to digest other foods of thought. Like why are sewer covers round?
I think at the end of the day, the importance of words can only be addressed in the silence of prayer, the watching of a sunset, or the ruminations of a daydreaming old man in a rocking chair.
Does it matter that we believe words are important? Nope. Because without words, you couldn’t even ask the question. It’s a great ouroboros in philosophy, a veritable dog chasing its tail.
All I really wanted to say is that my kid learned how to say “dada”, and my head exploded.