Surprised by the Successes…

Michael Halliday, the renowned linguist, once wrote: “[Rather] than being surprised at the failures [of language], given the complexity of modern cultures, it seems to me we should be surprised at the successes.” – Language, context, and text, pg. 9.

We so often become upset, even angry, that we are misunderstood.  The fact is, it takes only a very little time studying the theoretical structure of language before one starts to realize that it is a miracle of the most profound order that anybody understands anything said by anybody else at all.  Human language is a cultural sign-system of such monumental complexity that studying linguistics (that is, studying the nature of language) is one of the more difficult philosophical and socio-scientific tasks out there.  But for all of that, the fact remains that language works in the world every second of every day.  You are using language right now, in order to read this post.  Though you, whoever you are, are nowhere near me right now, you understand me.  Even the errors of grammar that are likely present in this post matter very little.  Your mind is simply too fluent, to magnificent, to be stopped by what should, by all accounts, be an all but impossible task.

So perhaps we should be slower to anger when we are misunderstood.  Perhaps we should be more joyful when we feel that another person has grasped what it was that we meant.  Let us not be surprised by our communicative failures, but let us be surprised, and delighted, by our successes.

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