Limitations Of Language

Perhaps it’s time to start considering yourself lucky in life if you think that you are unable to express what you are feeling, that words keep falling short, and that language is inadequate to articulate your experience. A lot of literary theory talks about the limitations of language, about how it is simply not enough to vocalize the multitude of experiences and emotions that you go through in your time, about how in fact, it is woefully parochial. As an Indian, whose mothertongue is Hindi but whose educative and social language has been English, it is all the more frustrating for me to voice what I feel sometimes. I haven’t read enough in Hindi to have a rich understanding of the language and its temperament, and I find English frustratingly deficient sometimes to express thoughts that go beyond the cultural limitations of the structure of this language itself. So often then, there are all these emotions in my head and I’m digging my brain out, thinking what to call them.

A very simple, slightly tangential example: the Italian word farfallone refers to a philanderer, as in sexually and romantically, who likes to move from one person to the next. It means a butterfly, who likes to go far and wide, going from one flower to the next; in English, that would be a flirt. Farfallone is so much richer a word, adding depth to the implication and meaning, as opposed to the blunt English word for it which is flirt.

Knowing another language definitely enhances your articulation and expression in your primary language as well, and maybe I’d like to know another one, for I feel there is so much that can be expressed more. Yet I feel that language in itself is essentially lacking, that there are some things that language is unable to capture; perhaps that is why gesticulation is such an important part of Italian conversations, and I wonder how this gesticulation is captured into words.

It is because we live in heteronormative world that goes by certain standards, values and morals, our language also takes that shape, and so, to articulate something that doesn’t subscribe to that world is so difficult, and sometimes even impossible. Take the word ‘romantic’- the association to it is so automatically to do with love and sex, and yet I feel that there is so much more to that word. You could have a romantic relationship with someone, without the obvious associations to romantic love, but yet here I am unable to put in words what is romantic aside from the general understanding, because language limits me. I don’t know how to say it, yet I have felt it, and so would have other people, so I’m sure it exists. My struggle as a writer is to be able to break out of the bounds placed by language on the human experience, and express something inherently inexpressible, by crafting my skill.

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