Saturday, November 2, 2013

Musings on language and semantics

Nutritional Death

Two words that would not ordinarily be sitting next to each other in a sentence. Except in China, apparently, as it pertains to the Great Leap Forward (GLF) and revisionist history. But, before I get to the main point of this post, let's just say that the idea of using the term "nutritional death" to describe those who died as a result of the GLF is outrageous. They starved because of the irrational policies of a national government that sought to create radical change to enhance and bolster itself. If millions (whether you accept the 2.5 million put forth by the creator of "nutritional death" or the more commonly accepted tens of millions by the rest of the world) had to die as a result of those policies, they were just acceptable casualties. The fact that the records of this time have still not been publicly released for historical review should speak to the truth of the horrible consequences either way. Frankly, to suggest that "nutritional death" is an appropriate way of saying "starvation" is an incredible act of hubris.

Back to the point I want to cover, though, is the incredible use of language and how it can be used to convey different meanings and contexts. I am a lover of words (even if it occasionally seems I do not always use them in the best manner). I always find it fascinating how words can be put together to create new words with different meanings. I love to compare words from different languages to see how they match and how they are used within different contexts. They are fascinating exercises and it is a great way to learn more about the world and the people who inhabit it.

Words are what we use to express what we think, what we feel, what we believe and what we want - among other things. Words have a power to convey that no other form of communication can possess. Music and video are manners of communication but they are both limited to certain mediums. Art can transform but it, too, can only go so far. However, words can operate not only on their own but in all of the aforementioned mediums, as well. The power of the word is incredible and one that is often unappreciated by a majority - yet slickly used by a few to entertain, inspire, hurt or control.

Ask any politician the power of a word. In the American vernacular, what is the difference between a progressive and a liberal? How about a conservative or facist? Only the speaker when referring to members of one of the two main political parties. Ask any musician, particularly rappers, the power of a word. The music is often secondary to the power and the flow of the words used by the musician. A writer, whether it be a blogger, a poet, an author or someone simply detailing their lives in their diary, is helpless without words.

And when one considers words in only a single language, they fail to consider the complexity when multiple languages can be used. As one who lives in a multi-lingual household, I am always fascinated by the many varieties we use to express ourselves between languages, or even within them. Though we do not always think about it, our ability to speak Chinglish (or even Spanglish) works well for us because we can use words that make more sense in one language than the other(s). While others outside our home may not always follow the words, it works because we have established our own form of communication with words that enable us to convey what is needed. At the end of the day, is that not the end goal?

Though, to be fair, I will never use the words "nutritional death" to explain "starvation" no matter how much a government (or any other entity) thinks it is a rational expression.