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LiBRI: Talk – Creation or Destruction of Meaning

In the latest volume of the LiBRI, PhD Cristina Dimulescu, in the article Talk – Creation or Destruction of Meaning, brings into light the dispute that has been caused by the controversial power of the spoken word and demonstrates that talk gives rise to new meanings and implicitly to a new language, instead of destroying them.

As the importance of verbal communication has been analysed from different angles, there are two sides that stand out by sharing totally opposite views. On one side, there are the authors of the theatre of the absurd and on the other side, there are the linguists and the philosophers of language. The former believe that words are incapable of delivering the meaning, while the later stand for the value of the language and the new meanings that result from human interaction.

verbal-communication

What is really interesting is that, in fact, talk can be creative and destructive at the same time, as by simply uttering words we have the power to change the reality – statement that Austin made in his book “How to Do Things with Words”. So, from this perspective, both sides are right in supporting their opinions: human interaction functions as a way of building the world that surrounds us but also as a way of destroying the understanding of it and the language itself.

The authors of the theatre of the absurd, represented by Eugen Ionescu, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet or Arthur Adamov, do not consider the spoken word a device that is endowed with the power of acting on reality, but they see it more as a shortcoming: it cannot render the meaning without altering it or it cannot render it at all. Thus, the language is powerless. Eugen Ionescu expresses this idea in his plays – in “The Chairs” the message is conveyed through the body language of the characters and not through their speech, which proves to be useless, pointless; in “The Bald Soprano” words are again superficial and misleading, since instead of connecting people, they pull them apart. Words are only a way of expression when actually there is no idea to be communicated.

The linguists and the philosophers of language, whose side Cristina Dimulescu chose to join, are represented by Eugeniu Coșeriu, Mikhail Bakhtin or H. P. Grice. As human interaction is the main factor that leads to the evolution of the language and the changing of the society, they express their belief in the importance of the dialogue, which is significant for revealing and creating new meanings. So, the language is not powerless anymore, but it is alive and continuously changing, as each speaker contributes to the creation of the language through his/her speech itself. Moreover, the power of the words is also given by their versatility: when being used in various contexts, words bear different meanings and express different purposes. In fact, it is the context that gives the words meanings and if it is ignored, it can lead to misunderstandings, as it is not the language that stays on the basis of conversation but it is exactly the other way round, as Mikhail Bakhtin said.

In conclusion, language is a very complex mechanism that was created to help us express ourselves and interact with others. Whether it is seen from the perspective of the writers of the theatre of the absurd, or from the perspective of the believers in the power of the spoken word, it still represents our only connection between our minds and the exterior world and we cannot live without it.

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Daniela Angheluș