Mikk Pärnits: Less protecting language, more chances for understanding

Author and journalist Mikk Pärnits.
Author and journalist Mikk Pärnits. Source: Laura Arum-Lääts

"Language is flowers on the manure pile of understanding, if one may wax so poetic," writes author and journalist Mikk Pärnits ahead of Native Language Day, stressing the importance of slang and foreign influences to language in noting the fact that, when free to do so, a language develops to benefit its speaker, enhancing speakers' ability to understand one another.

On Native Language Day, it's worth remembering that everything is alive — even language! Language is develops, grows and has different breeds. Language is something that is given to everyone. Knowing a language, however, doesn't mean understanding. Language follows understanding. Language is flowers on the manure pile of understanding, if one may wax so poetic.

It is understanding that has been essential between people. At our core, we are ultimately all the same kind of person. We want more or less the same things. The pain of a breakup is understood without words by Tunisians, Colombians and Japanese alike. Language comes along after to embellish and, frequently, cloud it. Language develops in accordance with our understanding of the universe and our place within it. Language follows us, needs us, uses us. Language is a living organism in its own right, but as a friendly animal does not want to submit to our authority completely. We cannot command it, although using a language is commanding it. Language can both adorn and defile us, as, as a result of its use, we can at least attempt to better communicate our more complex thoughts. Proficiency therein can take one far in society.

One fun and interesting word in our lexicon is 'looduskaitse' [nature conservation, literally 'nature protection' -ed.]. If nature is everything living, which has been independently active for billions of years, then from whom do we need to protect it? Language use can deceive you that way. But nature conservation means the restriction of people. If we say that we want to protect something, then we are protecting ourselves with language from the definition of this phenomenon. We do not want to think about the fact that we ourselves are guilty if nature or a language are stunted. Seeing beyond language requires understanding. Language fills our thoughts. Language is a living being, and while we may try to divide nature up into Estonian, Polish or Swedish nature, then one or the other does not begin or end with state borders. It is all one big, coherently active living mass that could get along just fine without people. But language could not get by without us. We need protection — from ourselves.

Language needs oxygen

Life requires some fundamental conditions. One of them is oxygen. Readers who live in big-city smog are able to appreciate clean air. Language needs oxygen in which to live, and there is plenty of it in the human brain. Language does not want to live in a cage. This would be a caged language, and a sorry, stunted version of a free-range animal. Besides, language can always break out of its cage. It's not pretty, in any case. Language and the use thereof provide us with information about the modern world in almost real time. The more we analyse and adapt language, the more we hope to more closely reach understanding. But we've often got it backward — first understanding, and then langauge follows in its growth.

The deeper the feeling of misunderstanding and bewilderment in society, the more understanding is attempted to bee achieved through force. By safely caging a wild life, we want to preserve the beauty of nature. But it isn't the same in an oxygen-starved cage.

People need understanding

We need protection from one another. Instead, language frequently divides generations or peoples. There is language, but no understanding. Even the more "correct" use of language does not yield results, although someone rationally analysing information may expect that it would... But a controllable language is hollow, cleaned out of its beauty and life, as it lacks understanding of the essence of life and language.

Native languages divide people and do not bring them closer to understanding. People need understanding first and foremost. Left unhindered, language and forest will grow perfectly and efficiently between us. By controlling and "protecting" it, we are hurting ourselves. Language loves diversity. The boundaries of language are vague and surreal. Thousands of species live within the forest of language. Occasionally, one will drive another out, then, to balance it out, something else will arrive later, and so nature fulfils its endless cycles. The Estonian language is likewise a hodgepodge that includes a ton of foreign words. A language will only begin to die of lack of oxygen when contained. When free to do so, a language develops to benefit its speaker, enhancing speakers' ability to understand one another. Language is constantly undergoing change. Just like society, a reflection of which language is to some extent.

Language does not need protection, committees or tamers, because at that point it is no longer a language, but a tool. Not a butterfly, but a screwdriver. Nobody will want to speak it, then, or live in desertified terrain. Which is why, instead of topics related to the defence of our native language or being anti-slang, we would be better off considering understanding. Without it, there is no proper language and one cannot be long for this green world.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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