CommonSpace columnist Ian Dunn says Common Weal’s Butterfly Rammy is a chance to explore the biggest and best questions of life
I BELIEVE that human language proves the existence of God. Within our words is the spark of the divine that sparks all of our love, our hate, our hope, our despair. Everything about human beings that is miraculous, all our greatest achievements, start with a word.
The magnificent buildings, the soaring symphonies, the smallest acts of love all spring from our ability to communicate with each other.
Without language we are stumbling, unimpressively hairless apes. With it we step out towards the stars, we define our own experience, we create, we destroy, we are the most remarkable life to live on this earth.
The greater part of the miracle of language is it’s incredible, near infinite diversity. The fact that language changes, evolves in different ways in response to its surroundings means that humans have a remarkable diversity of thought.
A child born of Beijing today grows up learning Mandarin, the structures and words of that language push her thoughts in certain ways, shape the way she conceives of the world, the way she perceives her own life.
A child born in Glasgow grows up learning English, so will learn to think in an entirely different way, shaped by the different limits and freedoms of that language.
“Thinking about language, about the words we use and why, is not some airy-fairy artsy-fartsy indulgence.”
This should not be seen as undermining our common humanity, but should be celebrated as an astonishing gift that allows our species access to a huge range of concepts and ideas that would not be possible if we were monolingual.
Thinking about language, about the words we use and why, is not some airy-fairy artsy-fartsy indulgence. It’s not a middle class, belly button pursuit engrossed hobby of people with nothing better to do.
It is crucial. It’s how we understand who we are. When we talk about how we talk, we begin to peal back the truth about every aspect of our lives.
It’s why I was absolutely delighted to contribute to the Butterfly Rammy book and shows at the Fringe. Each show is focused on a different Scots word like Dreich, drooth, beelin, feart and more. These are the words of Scotland, and nowhere else. They’ve bubbled up from the mountains and the glens, been shaped by the wind and the rain and thousands of years living here.
“I’d urge you to pop along to the Butterfly Rammy shows in Edinburgh this August. The more we talk about talking the better we’ll know ourselves.”
In the end everything comes back to language. The vexed question of Scottish independence really comes down to how different the English we speak in Scotland is from the English they speak in England.
Does it make us see the world differently enough to merit Scotland having it’s own state?
One of the reasons David Cameron and the like are so opposed to Scottish independence is because many of the Scots they know, the boarding school class, speak and think almost identically to them. There is very little difference between the language and thought of the English and Scottish upper classes so of course they find the idea of separation nonsensical.
The rest of us may see it differently, but just how differently remains to be seen. Regardless of your politics, I’d urge you to pop along to the Butterfly Rammy shows in Edinburgh this August. The more we talk about talking the better we’ll know ourselves.
Picture courtesy of Common Weal