I had mentioned the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”* as a favorite template in talking about conflict and power, and the person responding wondered about how quickly young minds were manipulated even by the design of children’s literature. One might call that a power-centered view, i.e., that adult authors have set out to subjugate the next generation of children (God willing), albeit perhaps to best suit the dictates, whims, and sadism of an autocrat (God forbid it).
I don’t think that’s how language works through our species — my inclination is to view language universally as a natural and naturally evolving behavior fit to essential ecological and larger environmental conditions.
In regard to that, I cannot say it emphatically enough: read Dan Everett!
Here’s the post from The Awesome Conversation:
I would dismiss “manipulation” out of hand as regards language uptake. In the way of words, or what I refer to as “language metonymy” (I feel awfully alone Out Here, lol), it calls up unnecessary associations, e.g., paranoia, victimization, dominance. Basically, the term may collide with a more instinctual tendency toward autonomy and confidence in human’s sense of “locus of control”.
In that one may regard, and should, human language as part of the natural expression of the species, I happen to believe that “uptake” — the learning of a system of sounds — starts when the ears become active in the womb. We’re that smart! 🙂 Sounds in that experience may not have association with objects, much less complex ideas, but the important repeated ones may be remembered (eh, mama? papa?) and further associated with their emotional affect. I’m suggesting, not telling, I don’t think anyone knows how it feels to be minus three months old. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that our common, species-wide, language experience starts with the onset of hearing.
Let’s skip a lot of ground and go to those first legends. In that every culture is first and foremost a language culture (there’s something to argue right there, but stay with me a moment), each has a way of composing its existence and in both practical and teleological realms and through its language, by which I refer to all human symbolic expression, the culture passes itself through to its children. I believe that’s as simple as it gets and partially sustained in “uncontacted peoples” and the most isolated of the world’s remote tribal peoples (who have used their mouths and ears to make themselves more comfortable — or to survive — in their own world invented partially in mind in the carving out of their own way compatible with their environment and pleasing or sensible to themselves).
About “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: “Andersen’s tale is based on a story from the Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor, 1335), a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled “So ist der Lauf der Welt”. In the source tale, a king is hoodwinked by weavers who claim to make a suit of clothes invisible to any man not the son of his presumed father; whereas Andersen altered the source tale to direct the focus on courtly pride and intellectual vanity rather than adulterous paternity.”
A European writer, probably familiar, doubtlessly, with Aristotle’s dictum to “educate, entertain, and delight” pulls from an older Spanish tale some components to create a little entertainment, so says the author of the Wikipedia piece, about “courtly pride and intellectual vanity”, which is not far from themes involving narcissism and “malignant narcissism” associated with autocracy and conflict. I would chance that the magical element — invisible clothes — goes farther back in the Spanish experience and may have an interface with the “Golden Age”, but I would need more library, lol, and possibly Spanish to get that trace.
Long answer: it’s not “manipulation” with fairy tales, so much as the practical demands of extant realities and related aesthetic and intellectual conclusions and preferences. Working within Hans Christian Anderson’s talent and love was some transmuting process accessing, in essence, a literary base larger than the one with which he was born. By way of his experience and inspiration, we have a long-loved, long-lived story about power and vanity, and it has wide and continuing and natural resonance in those it reaches.
How may conversations about language affect language?
Heisenberg’s principle has been well acknowledged. With language in particular and its relationship to three fundamental elements of mind in conflict psychology — consciousness, self-consciousness, and conscience — it has special significance: observations about language and language behavior, much including criticisms as well as the most clinical, objective, and theoretical ideas, needs must be entertained in language by minds engaged in conflict and processing what they hear through their own arrangements of symbols.
An illness that starts with a microbe at least recapitulates itself for a while, generally long enough for research to tackle with fair predictability the behavior and pathways taken on the way toward weakening and destroying in whole or part a living system.
By contrast, a conflict planted and generated within the mind and both nourished and sustained by language culture through its arrangement of nouns, legends, tales, stories, reports, poems, plays, songs, dances, paintings, etc. — package it up and call it “language metonymy” — stays a moving target with many ways of responding to challenges posted by new information. In perhaps an evolutionary way, some changes may be entertained and embraced while others remain favored and either functioning or pleasing by way of the symbolic arrangements and constructs so maintained.
Perhaps language is the music of the mind, founded on repeated sounds memorized, parroted, reinvented, and endlessly expressed.
We employ language functionally, of course, but perhaps we enjoy it most, I think, for how it works on the heart, colors our lives, and lends or shares with each a little bit of what is great and legendary within and within potential.
Related Internal Reference
*“FTAC – A Great Mission”. Conflict Backchannels, November 26, 2012: “The fairy tale I’ve played up in relation to contemporary conflict has been “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” which gets at the essential components involving corruption, power, and speech. http://deoxy.org/emperors.htm Those who follow my themes will recognize in it the “malignant narcissist” and the related and fearful pandering and toadying involved as well as the innocent bravery of the child who says what is plain.”