Motif 1775 Purple and Orange 2008 (I)
Pattern and Language
By Fiona Fullam
Pattern and code are the most basic and essential components of all language and therefore are essential to thought, communication, to meaning itself. Language, a mix of order and chaos, superficially at least is comprised of patterns, rules, codes, conventions. It is a social contract, an agreement between groups of people on how to communicate. Much more than this however, the extent of our ability to think is contained within the language available to us. Our ideas and dreams can only be pinned down by attaching language to them. Our earliest memories are simultaneous with the acquisition of language. We think through language. Meaning comes from language.
Motif 1775 Purple and Orange 2008 (II)
Different groups of languages can have radically different sets of structure, nevertheless between different languages, and especially within groups of related languages, there are many connections. Foreign words, which have been adopted, words which share a root in another language, similar grammatical structures, are all examples of patterns which exist across many languages. Each individual language has of course, its own set of structures, patterns, grammar, codes. Tenses, conjugation of verbs, cases, even punctuation, each has its own little universe of rules and exceptions. Scattered across this complex tapestry exist the constraints of convention and taste. For example political correctness, rightly or wrongly responsible for the demise of much language, is primarily a code of behaviour constantly being written and rewritten into the language, cutting out offensive phrases, encoding and reworking our terms of reference.
Motif 1775 Purple and Orange 2008(III)
So this mosaic of language, layers and layers of interwoven patterns and codes, this mass of constantly shifting, evolving possibilities, shrinking and growing in all directions at once, is in constant flux, never fixed. New words or ideas come into being all the time: technical vocabulary, slang, local dialect and idiom. Dictionaries are regularly revised. This incredibly sophisticated system requires a further code to be understood: context, wider structures and patterns give meaning to the specific, give colour to the single stitch. Things cannot be understood in isolation. The Structuralists of the last century believed that everything had to be seen in the context of the larger structures or patterns of which they are a part. This is also why it is so difficult to accurately translate ideas from one language to another and why computer translation programmes are so hopelessly inadequate. When language is severed from its context, it is meaningless. We have this idea of pattern as fixed, as prescriptive somehow, but this is not the case. Language is organic. Spoken language has the advantage of expression, gesture, tone of voice to help fix its precise meaning at that point in time. Text is often more open to interpretation, but that does not mean that its meaning was not once fixed, by its author. It has to be accepted that each context and each one’s context is different, and that therefore there is an inevitable gap between what is thought and what is said/written, what is said/written and what is understood. Even with all its codes and patterns, its complexity and its organic nature, precision is elusive, and meaning continues to spiral outwards in ever expanding concentric circles.