Merriam Webster defines language as “a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.” While I do love that this definition includes not only the spoken language, but also those unspoken languages, I prefer to define language in a simpler way; language is expression. Language allows a form of release that nothing else can match. Whether it is in a speech, a letter, a look, or a prayer, language lets us form our thoughts into something tangible. We can choose to share these things, or we can keep them to ourselves; expression has no rules. It is flexible, ever-changing; to an extent, none of us shares the exact same language.
If we take a look at social media, we can catch a glimpse of the true diversity of language. There is Instagram, where the photographers among us share their language with the world by communicating through pictures of the things that they love or the things that inspire them. Then we have Snapchat, which is similar, but more temporary. People share bits and pieces of their days: the things they love to do, the friends they love to do them with, and all of the exciting adventures that life has to offer. There was Vine, where users got to let out the comic within them, trying to make people laugh in a mere ten seconds. Then there is Twitter, where users have 140 characters to say something witty, insightful, or silly. These are only a few examples of the diversity of language in social media, but what I find interesting is that no one form outshines the others. There isn’t any one way that people as a whole communicate or express themselves best.
Though we may all share a “language,” whether it be English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc., we do not all share a form of expressing this language. When we look at this a little more closely, it can seem confusing. How can we all understand one another when we express even the same “language” in such different ways? I don’t believe that we always can. This is where we confuse the word language as we know it to mean spoken, written, or gestured communication, with expression. We feel that we should understand a person who uses words or gestures that we can recognize and interpret, so we believe that we can. In fact, there is possibly the thinnest film of a same-language barrier blurring and morphing the interpretation.
A tweet meant to be inspiring, could be read sarcastically by one unfamiliar with this form of expression. A picture of a fancy meal posted on Instagram could be seen as frivolous or wasteful by some viewers. A funny or sarcastic Vine could offend a number of people who simply do not understand that medium of expression. Even when people speak the same language, they cannot always understand one another.
This is the beauty of language as a form of expression. It is not something that we learn as children simply so we can communicate with the world around us. It is something that we are constantly learning, and something that changes and grows with us. It is something that we should strive to understand and be aware of. Language is a gift that we need to preserve and respect because when we endeavor to understand expression in all forms, we give language the power to connect us all.