What Exactly Is Language?
When you hear the word “language” what comes to mind? A tool for communication? Signs and symbols with assigned cultural meaning? Semiotics and Ferdinand de Saussure? Perhaps you’ve never thought of it at all.
Nonetheless, in philosophy, the concept of language is what Pi is to math – neverending and exhausting! Thankfully this article has little to do with linguistics and everything to do with understanding how relationships work.
Feelings Aren’t Easily Communicated
So what is language? Merriam-Webster gives us a simple and workable definition:
“a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings”
The main drive of this article is highlighting precisely what we take for granted. That is, the assumption that feelings are communicated in conventional ways.
Perhaps this overarching assumption is what lands us in a world of interpersonal trouble. Maybe the gestures or marks associated with the so-called “conventional ways” have myriad meanings leading to miscommunication and misunderstanding; two qualities essential to an unhealthy and unsustainable relationship.
Love Has Many Dialects!
It is a startling revelation that everyone thinks, and thus transmits and receives love differently. I discovered this truth years ago – undoubtedly the onion was peeled back a layer – in a concept by Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages.
Disclaimer: The book is predominantly for Christians and the examples are thematically church oriented – but stick with the concept being communicated and you will not be let down.
Per Chapman, some people express (transmit, receive, understand) love through gift giving, others through quality time. Some manifest love through acts of service, words of affirmation and others through physical touch.
The implications are evident; if your significant other perceives love expressed solely by quality time and you discern it only through gift giving, it could be easy for her or him to conclude that you don’t love them based upon the premise that you give them gifts and not time. When in fact, they just failed to translate your love language and most likely you failed to interpret theirs. This “lost in translation” dynamic is the destroyer of relationships and ultimately the demolisher of love.
In short, a world of pain, frustration, and loneliness is in store for those that remain ignorant of the fact that others think, transmit and receive love differently than they do.
It Can’t Be That Simple…
This may seem overly simplistic and somewhat unrealistic but even a cursory glance at relationship problems and one will find it not so far fetched.
For example, what does your significant other complain about? They may complain that you never say you love them. Sure, you might be thinking “do not my actions demonstrate that I do?” However, their love language may be words of affirmation, so unconsciously they are interpreting your behavior as unloving. Of course, this can be subverted by both parties educating themselves and growing in awareness. Nevertheless, it’s a very real issue in otherwise superbly healthy relationships.
Therefore, examine the complaints of your partner. It may be indicative of their “love tank” on empty; namely, that you are unintentionally speaking a language they fail to understand, thus they cannot receive what you are attempting to transmit. This can easily be reversed, meaning you can examine your complaints – the same holds true.
Let Me Demonstrate As Clearly As Possible
Though the following comparison may seem outlandish, it nonetheless resembles the truth…let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine living in Germany, yet you are a monolingual American, transmitting, receiving and understanding language only in its English variety, in American culture. Consequently, after a short while you are upset that no one understands you and you feel lonely that your needs are going unmet and that your relationships lack depth and weight…however, here’s the kicker…you’ve never bothered to learn the German language nor the culture and it’s myriad nuances. You just assume all people are like you and therefore suffer the horror of this awful assumption.
A similar reality exists in the emotional world. The emotional dance between two people is a linguistic melting pot of unspoken languages and the correct translation of these languages determines whether the dance is concerted or discombobulated.
In sum, if emotionally your loved one speaks French (receives and gives love by words of affirmation) and you speak English (receive and give love by physical touch), then for a connection to sustain past the initial “steamy love phase” both parties must become fluent in each other’s language so the dance never dies out.
You with me?
The Concept Is Abstract But Broad
I would argue this concept is broad enough to span the emotional board. Perhaps all emotions in a sense have their own dialect and therefore healthy interpersonal skills is being fluent in many emotive languages. However, we don’t have the time here to dissect every emotion – you can wrack your brain on your own. Let’s just stick with love and see if we can become polylingual lovers.
Where To Begin?
Maturity presupposes that true love first seeks to understand rather than be understood; thus, the priority is fortifying a comprehension of another’s love language so love could be communicated (transmitted and received) effectively. The consequences of this concept abound, honestly, it changes everything.
Want to figure out exactly how to achieve this? Well, Chapman delivers a system to follow, a Rosetta Stone for love languages as it were. The book is an easy and insightful read. Godspeed!
Timmy G. (2019)