ARTICLE: The Impact and Functions of Language

What makes us different from the rest of biological creations is precisely the language. Let's see it as the maximum civilizational make; product of a dilated, hazardous, difficult and complex transportation of the human group on the surface of this rock that wanders between an ocean of cosmic dust, tongues of heat and waves of magnetism.

Let's say that the language is the result of a long fight against the forces of nature (and of course pleasant afternoons with orange-burning skies and amorous exchanges of salts and sweats). Against the opinion of all the mystical or theosophical schools, we will say that there is not exactly one day to say: this was the moment when the first words with which we gave names to things appeared. Said thus, nothing that has been given to us by a divine power, as all the mythologies of antiquity, including the Christian one, narrate.

Let us ask with the children's amazement when they begin to question themselves by the spectacle of the things in which they participate and while they fine-tune their neural networks: “Tell me, father, why the moon has that name? Who named the stones? What does shoe mean? Why do we say branch?” "There is an impressive theoretical heritage that humanity itself has been elaborating to explain the origins and evolution of speech and the community of speakers. There will be no reason for these notes to embroider there: we will only say that the first words were not identical to these chains of signifiers that we have today. It happens like this because there is really nothing in nature that remains at rest; and the language and the speakers, likewise, evolve, change, undergo transformations.

Perhaps our ancestors simply uttered grunts and then those grunts imitated the sounds produced by the things that surrounded them and their ears heard: the raindrops on the ponds, the song or the sounds of the birds, the blow of a stone on the skull of a mastodon. We still have linguistic fossils from those remote days that allow us to sustain that idea. For example, croaking, crunching, chirping, sucking, ruminating, etc. are all voices of our language that represent the sound of things. How, from these basic sounds, were things so complicated such as the political theory of language is developed is a subject of wonder rather than study. But, their impact and development over time surely is a subject of study.

It is said that this has been the maximum product of the symbolizing capacities of our species. It would not be an exaggeration to even say that “because of the language or the various forms it acquires; it has been possible to expand our intellective capacities”. Of course, we recognize the danger of going so far as to say: everything that is human is because of the language. There we would go to a dangerous idealism because it would have the equivalent of sentencing: everything is language and this is not the case.

The speech is the product of a community of speakers in action with the world; we refer to this as a historical stew whose ingredients include finding food, protection, facing wild animals, reproducing and transforming how much materiality surrounds us. That is to say: our species worked and simultaneously should have given the first grunts, besides attending other tasks. Perhaps the foundational sounds of speech have been similar to the sounds produced by the rusticity of the unpolished stones, used to break the bones of the beasts and enjoy their marrow. If the thing is dialectical, we should not fall into the error of sentencing: this was first and then this other. Very possibly, work and symbolization have been occurring simultaneously.

Regarding the origin of language, Marx tells us:

"Language is as old as consciousness: language is practical awareness, real consciousness, which exists also for other men and which, therefore, begins to exist also for myself and language is born, as consciousness, of necessity, of the constraints of exchange with other men.”

There was a need to go into this verbosity because it seemed that language is one of the greatest civilizing works. We could also invoke in our aid that anthropological thesis, according to which two hominization projects, Neanderthals and Sapiens, could be found in the same historical-geographic coordinate. They had phenotypic and genetic approaches. But there was a small and at the same noticeable difference between the two: Neanderthals did not symbolize the world. They succumbed to unknown causes, which are still puzzling scientists today. Those who remained as a unique hominization project were precisely the speakers. That is, those who operated complex symbolizations.

There is also a need to put something in the text about this symbolizing difference that is characteristic of the human species (or of Homo sapiens) with respect to other biological creatures.

By simple observation and simple conclusion, we would say that the others also have forms of symbolization, since they make groups with their peers and this way of making analogies and sets is a data that allows us to say that they have logical operations, even if they are primary. They also express love for their children: a grey whale seeks to protect its little one when it is threatened by other predators of the oceans and does not abandon it until it is impossible to rescue it. They also make wars and form murderous bands, like chimpanzees. And what about the bewildering colonies of bees and ants. Undoubtedly, they have forms of language, if we understand it as forms of exchange and expression, as an agreement to carry out a task in the community, or as a simple transmission of data about an event.

We would concede then that the human species is not the only one capable of intellection or elaborating certain logical operations, whether primary or very basic. That is to say, that also the other species carry out symbolizing operations, which we would judge as very rudimentary. On the other hand, the human species is the only one that elaborates works of maximum complexity, not only in the transformation and dominion of the existing materiality but also in other dimensions such as the artistic, political and projective of the future. There we would find that difference between the human and the purely animal.

Perhaps a simple way to explain what symbolizing is to say is that the brain is thinking to itself and using tools to provide itself with the essential nutrients for its sustenance and for its entertainment. But equally creating environments not given in the materiality itself, such as slavery or the projection of individual selves on things or imagining different futures.

For example, a car is not simply an artefact that allows one to move quickly from one place to another; it is also an object that tells others that we are successful, successful men, different from mediocrity. So a person moving in their own car is not just that: a person moving in a vehicle. It is something else: it is someone more intelligent, talented, brilliant, gifted, than those who lack their possession. It is a way to distance oneself from the others. More powerful, in synthesis, and therefore worthy of a greater recognition to "those without a car".

Another entry route for an act of understanding about the process of symbolizing the world from the language is offered by the linguists themselves. To his saying, this is a symbolic system, since it associates meanings and sounds. However, the problem is to know how this symbolizing or symbolizing operation is going to take place.

A possible answer is given by Saussure, who maintained that each lexical element would suppose an association between meaning and signifier. This association is arbitrary and necessary, so it must be learned. Certainly, that "arbitrariness of the linguistic sign" continues to cause conflicts in that archipelago of sages. Many linguistic signs may have occurred arbitrarily; but, we said above, others correspond to sounds emitted by the nature of things, which we simply reproduce and mentally associate. In addition to the "arbitrariness of the sign", granting it to exist, it should be added one more condition: the element of "imposition of the sign" by hegemonic or empowered groups of society, an element that should not escape any ideological or political theory of the language.