Wednesday, May 22Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986


Jasmine Chapman on the constraints of language and how important it really is when communicating with others.


Stop a second. Think about language, the thing which sets us humans apart from other beings of the world. The one thing, apart from our bendy thumbs, which makes us a level higher. I also ask you to think about how we think. We may be quick to dismiss the idea of reflecting on our freedom, for it is obvious that we have it. This is because as long as we enjoy life, our needs are fulfilled. Therefore, our level of freedom is of no interest to us, but is human freedom limited by the thing that makes us so prestige? Language evades our mind as well as our communication with others meaning that we may not be as free as we think.


Have you ever thought that we are bound by our words? Not in the sense that we are bound by our promises, but the fact that we cannot express our thoughts in more than words. A word is interpreted differently by everyone, it is very unlikely that two people will have the exact same association with a word and therefore, we may not really be as close to some people as we believe. To emphasise this further, what feelings and thoughts should we attach to homonyms (a word that has two meanings)?  Take the word “awesome”, perceived as both skater slang and a blissful state of wonderment; very oxymoronic. Moreover, the term ‘miserable’ means to be lacking happiness or acting out of the ordinary, in English. In Latin, however, the translation, ‘misere’ conotes grave sadness mostly associated with death; this is not the same thing. This lends idea to the endless disputes historians have in regards to source meaning and also why the ‘big-shot lawyers’ can find loopholes within contracts, for words have no fixed meaning. Surely language is limiting the mighty humans to really communicate effectively, for if we all think differently about one word then conversation is just guess-work. This means that although we build ideas, manifest thoughts and participate in conversation, the basis of language itself blinds us from going further for we are bound by words as the only source of thinking.


This is not meant to make us sad, quite the opposite. We have our thoughts and are free to think how we like in our minds. We are free to think any words which we like, but can we really think a feeling? Take the feeling of love, we experience it every day whether it’s with the stranger that helps pay for your bus ticket; the gaze of your barking companion; the hug of a mother when you’re sad or an intimate snuggle with your partner. One word, ‘love’, is associated with all those different things, so how can we possibly communicate using it? However, we are brought up on the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’, so how far are we really constrained by language? For example, when we sense fear we shriek and our love can be shown by helping another, so why do I need to tell you these feelings? We are tactile beings with a natural, loving connection which has not been created through speech. Think of that look you give your best friend when you are both about to giggle until your abs ache. That shows how although our native means of expression is a slave to the dictionary, our feelings mean that we can express ourselves in more than words. Therefore, actions help us to communicate our feelings without limit.


As living beings, we should think ourselves lucky that we can connect and communicate with more than just words. Even though it is interesting to understand our ability to express ourselves, we can look to animals which are similar to us, knowing that verbal communication is not vital. A world constrained by words is tricky and constraining, but as living beings we are free.

Photo Credit –  Shaurav Rai