Boxes and content

The languages we use to communicate with one another is constantly changing. Words change, meaning changes. We thought we’d lock writing in print, but the digital age proved that wrong. Nothing stays the same, well, almost nothing.

Though languages have been changing, our capacity for language has not. Nor has the deep grammar of language changed. And there are no signs of humankind transcending the boundaries of language either. The same rules that applied 3,000 years ago apply today, without exception.

The content has changed, but the box is the same.

We can access the recorded past because language, despite its abundant branching-out and shifting, reflects the unchanging humanity its users embody. We cry with Homer and get exalted with the New Testament, we stand in awe of the Vedic hymns and follow Enkidu to his death. We can because the language is bridging our experiences, despite the vast expanse of time separating us from each other, civilizations, cultures and peoples.

Language is our common language, our means of transport across time and space. Translators assure us that no translation is perfect, that every language has its own irreducible specificity, its one-of-a-kindness. And that is true, to a certain extent. But more importantly, it’s its one-of-the-sameness, its translatability that gives a language the power to reflect and communicate beyond the immediate, and therefore bring its communicants into the larger family of humanity.

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