The Superfluity of English

Much as I fancy myself a linguist, I must admit that my native tongue is unnecessarily complicated, confusing, misleading and above all, stupid.  Its insistence on every “cogent” statement having a subject, object and verb is not only unnecessary, but it effects our very thought processes and view of the world.  First of all, the prevalence of this “I”, “me”, “mine”, “you”, “yours” nonsense reinforces the illusion of disconnected egos or entities, not to mention ownership which is another illusion.  Granted, occasional use of such terms is convenient and pervasive to other languages, as well, just not as much as ours.  But the thing that really confuses our outlooks is the aforementioned subject-object-action triumverate.  Not only do we speak in these terms, but we also think in those terms, and therefore, it effects our entire worldview.

For instance, take the statement “It is raining”.  To what does “it” refer in such a sentence?  The sky?  The clouds?  Not really.  When we say this, what we are actually saying is that raining is happening.  Or maybe not even that; maybe just “raining” would suffice.  The state of affairs is rain.  There is no “it” involved.

Even more insidious are the myriad words we employ that imply a person or a thing’s “essence”: am, are, was, were, etc.  To say that you “are” something implies that it is the very core of your being.  Ever go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? (I wouldn’t recommend it).  Every person in the room is forced to identify themselves thusly: “Hi, my name is ___ and I am an alcoholic.”  But “is” anyone actually an alcoholic, by definition?  Is there such a being whose entire existence consists of consuming alcohol, devoid of any other activity, thought or speech?  Of course not.  But these people seem to love defining themselves in that manner.  Somehow, they find it therapeutic.  Personally, I think it is dangerous, not to mention mind-numbingly boring.  In reality, when a person is drinking to excess, and only then, it can be properly expressed that he/she drunking.  We don’t even need “is drinking alcohol”.   If a person “is” washing the dishes, say, we don’t need all of those words to express that.  Because at that moment, you ARE the activity of dish washing.  At any given time, you are your experience.  You aren’t “doing” it, you are the process.  Similarly, we are accustomed to saying things like “I am an accountant” or “I am an American” or “I am an artist”, as if the noun ending the sentence completely defines what we are.  But what “are” we?  Again, we “are” whatever current experience we are undergoing at the present moment.

English translations of the Tao teh Ching often begin with the words “The Tao (way or path) that can be named is not the true Tao”.  An accurate translation of the original Chinese text would be closer to “Tao is Tao not Tao”.  To us, this may sound like the babbling of primitives just figuring out speech.  But it is actually far more accurate than our translation, as it omits superfluous and confusing words such as “named” and “true”.

The point of this post is to show how our language confuses us into believing that we are alien entities in a vast, unintelligent universe.  It reinforces the notion of self and other.  And that lies at the root of all conflict, because true empathy can only exist when one realizes that everyone is “the all” – the entire process.  I believe that a revolutionary revision of our language would do wonders to end, or at least greatly lessen, the fear and hatred we harbor towards one another.  It might even eradicate the need for the word “war”.  Lest one think that all of the above ideas are my own, I suggest that you read a brilliant book by the late Robert Anton Wilson entitlted “Quantum Psychology”.  He actually managed to write that entire book without once using “essence” words such as is, are, am, etc.  Now THAT’S an impressive literary feat if ever there was one.

Paul Loughman

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