For those researchers, scholars, linguists, and enthusiasts who revel in the marvel of human language, this post is for you. Never mind that language has no absolute definition and varies depending on who studies it. Never mind that depending on the definition, language also incorporates communication systems of other animal species. I’m talking about language at its core—pure and simple.
If there’s anything we all can agree on is that words are symbols used to transfer meaning. The symbols aren’t inherently meaningful but rather the cultural heritage, emotional vocalization, and ecology of place associated with them are. The alphabet/characters that design those symbols in written form are also symbols and vehicles of meaning. Because meaning and communication exist well beyond the confines of what we call human language, we can agree that meaning evolutionarily came before the symbols used to transfer the meaning and that meaning is expressed and transferred through various media; vocalized and written language are just one aspect of communicating meaning.
By observing human language for its bare essence, we have no need to inflate it in order to build our self-importance and able-bodied human privilege. When we forever carve the line between humans and other animals, with humans being on the super-amazing awesome side of the line deserving all the privilege in the world just because we communicate using what we call “language” and other animals being on the it-sucks-to-be-you side of the line suffering the oppression of our awesomeness simply because they use different communication systems not what we call “language,” then we force ourselves, as able-bodied humans speaking on behalf of all humans, to live in loneliness and isolation. We become the snob in kindergarten no one wants to play with because we were the ones to successfully regurgitate the alphabet first and are holding it over everyone else and going all out our way to make the other students look stupid and ourselves smart.
What glorifying human language does to the negation of all other communication systems is socially construct us into isolation. That is, it further reiterates why we should view ourselves as a socially isolated species on account of our uniqueness. No other ability from any animal can ever measure up to our amazingness because we said so. They can come close, but they’ll never be equal in amazingness. Therefore, that makes any attempt to relate and build relationships with other animals beyond exploitation folly. And for the minority of humans, whose abilities prevent them otherwise from using language effectively, they bring shame to our amazingness and we must ostracize them or “cure” them as much as possible.
As for communicating across species on common ground that doesn’t privilege human language, only indigenous cultures (along with some New Age hopefuls and radical scholars and scientists) find this of value.
My interpretation of how human language is elevated across civilized human cultures is definitely exaggerated. Many humans exist in civilization who don’t rigidly define language and manage to communicate across the confines of what we call language (i.e. the multi-modal communication in human-animal bonds, the intuitive communication between a mother and her child). But I’m trying to make a point. We put too much emphasis on the abilities of humans as a species. Language is one of the abilities we still hold on to for dear life in order to magnify our uniqueness and use it to legitimize our social atrocities and crimes against other animals.
Language is fascinating and a worthy object of study. But in the overall makings of Earth, where the abilities of living beings are diverse and wonderful, language really is not a big deal. If only our egos would simply let language be wonderful and meaningful to us without enacting ableism…