Thursday, October 2, 2008


Architecture has many parallels with linguists- the Pattern Language's architecture-by-numbers not included One of the most interesting, I think, is how linguistics's existential question (what is language) has played upon the very scholarly field which asks it. Consumed by what Freud called a "Narcissism of Little differences", the experience of language and the study of it are two different things.

Before I go further, let me stress that I am in no way advocating the advantages of being 'dumb' about language (and by extension Architecture). I strongly believe that the study of a subject enriches our understanding and experience of it. By understanding the variety in languages we develop a new perspective on our own language(s). The preconceptions of expression and communication that are inherent to the language we use can be exposed, confronted, explored with fresh eyes. The question: "How does the language I use predetermine how I view the world?" can be asked.

For example, there are 'click' languages, spoken in Southern Africa, (

that use clicks to change a word's meaning just like vowels or consonants do in English. There are languages in Australia that only have 3 verbs and there are languages, like Yupik Eskimo, that combine an entire sentence into one word. ("The Story of Human Language", John McWhorter, The Teaching Company. 2004) To understand how tonal languages developed (Chinese) or where grammar words evolved from is akin to taking a trip to a new country and learning for the first time, that life can be lived in another way, totally foreign from your own.

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