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In the beginning was Brahman, with whom was the word. And the word is Brahman.
- Vedas

In the beginning was the Word;
And the Word was with God
And the Word was God.
- John 1:1

Language is our most fundamental form of communication; mastery over language is the very condition that makes us human. Although many have tried, none have yet taught a chimpanzee the logic of language, nor a computer its poetry. Through the structures of language, abstract notions of words, and grammar, we evolved a higher level of consciousness. The reflexive sounds that any animal makes, such as gasps, are not language. They are elementary and so do not need attention, neither to be made nor to be understood. Language, however, requires focus and agreement by both speaker and listener; interactivity is implicit. This agreement, and a common experience through it, creates a culture.

Image: Word Our travels on the Internet have removed us further from the origins of "the thing itself." We are continually caught in the dilemma of trying to locate ourselves in an intangible and ever-changing sphere of stimuli. Although this condition may have foreboding overtones, the extension of human experience and observation into a virtual world presents us with a creative ability limited only by our imaginations, and the imaginations of those who have created the hardware and software that we use.

Words are not just
wind. Words have
something to say.
But if what they
have to say is not
fixed, then do they
really say something?
People suppose that
words are different
from the peeps of
baby birds, but is
there any difference
or isn't there?
- Chaung Tzu (Chinese philosopher, 4th Century BDCE)
Basic Writings

Like images, words stand in for ideas. René Magritte's (Belgian painter, 1898-1967) painting that depicts a smoking pipe includes the words Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe) on the canvas. He titled the painting "The Treachery (or Perfidy) of Images." By juxtaposing image and word, coupled with the title of the work, Magritte brings the viewer's attention to the fact that the object of the painting is not the same thing as the object it represents. Magritte loved to comment on the arbitrary nature of language: his painting also implies that the connection between the word "pipe" and the class of objects it represents (things you put tobacco in and smoke) is entirely arbitrary. We could just as easily call them "windows."

Image: insert caption here
Joseph Kosuth (American artist, born 1945), One and Three Chairs, 1965

Language depends on our ability to divide the world into categories we use words to represent. We can say that those two objects are similar in function, so we will call them both chairs. Much in the same way that the organization of sounds creates music, the organization of words through grammar makes language. Linguists such as Noam Chomsky (American linguist and philosopher, born 1928) posit the existence of an innate human ability to form language through grammar.

Language is known as a discrete combinatorial system. Elements in such a system can be combined but they remain separate, unlike paints, whose color cannot be individually discerned after they are blended. Linguist Steven Pinker (Canadian-American experimental psychologist, born 1954) notes that DNA is also a discrete combinatorial system, whereby different nucleotides combine to create our unique genetic code. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the "word" is equated with a kind of divine origin, as in "In the beginning was the word." There is also "I give you my word," which is more than an oath, but a promise, a swearing to a self that is unwaveringly honest and sincere. In the 1980s, "word up" became shortened to "word," indicating the speaker's agreement with something just said.

The first time I read the dictionary I thought it was a poem about everything.
- Stephen Wright (American comedian, born 1955)

Can we really use words as indexes for things we do not experience? For example, we have no direct contact with subatomic particles and the laws of quantum physics that describe them. Are there words sufficient to mirror these phenomena? Perhaps not, but computer algorithms can represent concepts in new metaphorical ways that may not be limited by language. Thus, they might be able to model phenomena and allow us metaphorically to see what we could not previously comprehend.

Its no use talking unless people
understand what you say.

- Zora Neale Hurston (American folklorist and writer, 1891-1960),
Moses, Man of the Mountain

Communication through speech requires a commonality of experience. Whereas a painting of a horse has a certain resemblance to a particular animal and therefore can be understood by speakers of any language, the word "horse" refers not to a particular subject but to a class of things. It is only through a shared language and a common set of cultural metaphors that we can understand this term.

Video streaming and real-time interactivity, along with voice recognition and language translation, may suggest the dawn of an age in which meaning is infused back into sound and is also amplified by gesture, image, and performance, held in permanence within the digital libraries of the computer, distributed across vast electronic networks. The effects of this new orality may be seen from the courtroom to the boardroom and from the news report to the class report. This could be a grand resurgence of multimedia, one that will require new examination, critical analysis, an assessment of loss, and a change in the ways in which things are remembered.

On the other hand, communication tools like email and instant messaging, to say nothing of sites like Facebook, have brought a grand resurgence of the written word. Over the past century, letter writing and telegraphy gradually declined as people turned to the telephone to communicate. But from its beginnings, the computer has required that people write in order to communicate. When computers were first networked together some forty years ago, researchers thought that people would use the new networks to share computing power. Instead, the most popular uses were email and usenet, an early bulletin board system. Today, teenagers who may never in their life write a paper letter are proficient in typing emails and text messaging on their phones.