We humans could never manage without language. Those early homo sapiens could never manage with just grunts. They, or their forebears, started with grunts and gestures of a sort, but how many different grunts can anyone make?
Grunt, grunt! Is that grunt, Grunt or would it be Grunt grunt? Fairly soon those grunts had to be recognised as having some meaning or nothing would get done. Do you want an egg with your bacon? Grunt! Is that a grunt or a GRUNT?
So it can be fairly easy to imagine those early grunts becoming different and the emerging sounds gaining some recognition within the tribe. Then new meanings evolved and gradually developed into a language that all the tribe members could use and recognise. Nothing like the languages of today but simple means of communication that enabled the tribe to follow what was needed and who should do what. Essential communication.
Communication today is just not thought about. Everywhere we go there are many others with a hand clipped to an ear and speech that can be heard half a mile away. Is that important? Some of the one sided conversations we cannot avoid overhearing are banal.
Yet if we were speaking to that person, face to face, the conversation would be anything but banal. So why are those mobile phone conversations so very odd? What is it about the mobile phone that induces so much utter nonsense?
” We’re just passing the hill with that bump; that means we’ll be in the station in 5 minutes. Then it is only 10 minutes in the car.”
“No, I’ll drive carefully. Bye.”
We cannot understand why anyone would bother. It is all down to the very human need to communicate. Given the means some of us just cannot wait and must speak to someone.
Without the mobile phone there were no easy means to make contact when on the move or without a telephone nearby. So we either talked to others nearby or were silent within our thoughts.
Given any excuse most of us will strike up a conversation with anyone near us on the same journey, and many times without any excuse at all. Except the commuters. Something quite different happens when commuting.
The station is almost full and you can see most of the faces you see every day waiting there in close contact, eyes straining down the line willing that train to come, now.Watches are checked.
Then the crush to get on and the determination to grab the same seat. Never dare to usurp the other chap’s seat; that would be an act of treason, worse than murder. Now open the paper, book or briefcase and act as if sitting in a study, alone at home.
Crossword? Mine’s the Telegraph and that chap in the opposite corner has it too. Must beat him today by finishing mine first. But what if he cheats? Oh blow, here we are.
The rush to get off; not a word spoken. That’s the code, you see. Code? Well it is unwritten but everyone knows it. Don’t understand? Tough, you’ll soon learn.
Even the mobile phone cannot break the code. If anyone dares then looks will kill. A bleep? Quick, turn it off before it bleeps again. Put the paper up in front of your red face.
The Times may be upright hiding that sneaky texting action. The unspoken rule is silence. That is the antidote to banal conversation. How can anyone talk to the same people, on the same journey every day and not slip into banalities?
Hence the code. Here perhaps, is where we can begin to learn the silence of language that does not need to be heard. How to manage without constantly fiddling with that costly piece of plastic.
We have so many ways to communicate that the time has come when we need to discover the freedom of silence and the value of thoughts. Just as long as we have language. Grunt.