Why We (Still) Love Language: A Plea

Because we do, don’t we? Or we should.

Every time we pick up a good book or a great article it exerts this peculiar fascination on us, and we give in and we’re no longer suspended in ambiguous dry limbo. We swim, we dive, we submerge in full enjoyment of the written text. We rediscover. We bounce and leap and splash words like dolphins at sea.

Why do we love language?

I would say it’s because language is the best instrument for sharing. No, actually, it’s more than that. It is the best system for sharing the human race has come up with.

It is a labyrinthine and yet wondrous system of symbols and sounds that gives names to the things around us, helps us express who we are, interact, persuade, build relationships, create melodies and paint with words.

It is through language and its codes that we can name, conceptualize and structure our environment, that we can know and understand what we know, that we can summon up new worlds in our heads, that we can grasp, interpret and convey our sensations, feelings, emotions or convictions, that we can engender, keep or destroy relationships, that we can control others by asking, begging, pleading or persuading, that we can exchange factual information and argue rationally. None of that could exist without the (proper!) use of language, without its complexities, subtleties, richness.

Let us protect that richness, that juice and that complexity. The tendency today is to down-engineer language to its most impoverished basics, to replace everything with direct visual stimuli or with almost robot-like oversimplifications.

We experience maimed communication on a daily basis. Humans without words are like dolphins with their tails chopped off: we sink to the dull dim bottom, alienated, and we die. We cannot swim, we cannot bounce, all awareness, togetherness and joy disappear.

As our vocabulary shrinks, an entire bridal procession of emotions, experiences and complex thought deserts us. When was the last time you struggled to find a more appropriate synonym for “cool”, “great”, “hot” or even “good” for example? Try it now. How many associations are still alive in your brain?

So please, when you hand your texts over to translators, be patient. Plan ahead. Translators are your voice for your target audience in a different language. Allow them the time to mull over the terms, to ponder the right meaning, to bother with aesthetics, to swim in the flow of beautiful language. By expecting machine-like turnout and instantaneous deadlines for almost no money, you are destroying not only their profession, you are crippling your message and cutting your own wings.

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