Homo loquens. Speaking of language…
Homo loquens is the Latin term for the human being as a speaking animal. Indeed, the ability to speak, whether it’s through sounds or signs, is a defining characteristic of our human condition. It’s
also one of the most puzzling, given that there is no concrete evidence of how we actually acquired that ability. The roots of language have fascinated humankind for centuries on end. In the
myths that surround the origin of language in many cultures, the ability to speak is seen as god-given. With the advent of modern science, speech has been studied systematically as a biological and cultural phenomenon.
And even if we may never know for certain when, where, and how we came by our ability to speak,
the research conducted in a wide array of disciplines does shed light on the complex biological
and socio-cultural networks involved in the process of language acquisition
Movements of the Mind. Sense and Sensuality of Language
Language is a fundamental element of our thinking. We use it to give our thoughts a recognisable and communicable shape. Language is always embedded in time and space. Indeed, the ways
we think, speak, act, and make sense of the world are inseparably linked with one another. Figures of speech play a huge role in linking the abstract with the concrete. Metaphorical expressions
such as “hold onto that thought” or “keep an eye on something” help us to illustrate complex ideas.
Writing for its part lends a visible, material shape to our thoughts. It uncouples language from the
speaker, from their voice, gestures and gaze, from hearing and touching. Written laguage helps us to
structure and analyse our thoughts. It opens up entirely new opportunities for passing on knowledge.
There are no limits to the way we are able to play with language and to the possibilities we have
for continually opening up new worlds of ideas. And whenever we read, language rekindles our
memories and stimulates our imagination.
Speech Craft. The Magic and Might of Language
Our ability to communicate allows us to convey and understand expectations, messages, wishes, and feelings. But we don’t use language just to describe the world around us. We also use it
specifically as an instrument of power to gain influence and actively shape our surroundings. That’s true on scales both large and small, in politics, and in our private lives. The framework
within which we communicate with one another, and the words we use to do so, tell us a great deal about our values, our sentiments, our views, and our intentions.
Our acts of speaking - be it in everyday conversations or in the public eye - are inseparably
linked with our physical body and our surroundings. In the interplay between performative
practices, verbal as well as physical means of expression, they serve as a binding link between
the individual and society.
Mother Tongue(s). Belonging and Self-determination
From the moment we are born, each and every one of us becomes part of a language community. So language becomes a mainstay of our personal understanding of ourselves. It is also a social,
cultural and political means of creating a sense of belonging to society. Language conventions can give rise to feelings of familiarity and attachment, but also of exclusion and foreignness. Indeed,
it is not unusual for these conventions to be part of processes of power politics or to be perceived as stereotypes. They are frequently associated with gender order, manifestations of social
strata, or distinctive regional and national traits.
As tightly as the traditions of language are interwoven with our individual and collective identity,
the way in which they change and evolve is just as self-evident. The dynamics of cultural encoun-
ters, political convictions and technological innovations influences language and alters it. That fact
can be unsettling and lead to it being instrumentalised for ideological purposes. The big challenge,
when it comes to the living nature of language, is through social consensus to strike the right balance between preservation and innovation, between a sense of belonging and self-determination.