Language and Thought
Language is one of the fundamental dynamics in the composition of a culture. The power of a nation is directly proportional to the power and richness of its language and thought. A perfect command of language and the ability to engage easily in dialogue with others protect a person from outside influence. Language is an important tool for humankind in our efforts to better understand the cosmos and events both holistically and analytically. From every aspect, language plays a defining role in the formation of our culture.
Language is not only a means of speech and thought, it is a bridge with the significant function of bringing the wealth of the past to our day and conveying today’s heritage and our new compositions to the future. All of the cognitive, intellectual and scientific reserves and riches of a nation can become eternal only by means of a language powerful enough to embrace this heritage as a whole, a heritage that has descended from the ancestors and taken new forms in the hands of today’s generations. The more richly and colorfully a nation can speak, the more they can think; the more they can think, the broader is the span their speech can reach.
Every single society leaves behind what they speak and think today for its validity to be probed, tested, and protected by future generations. In this way, a huge reserve of experience and learning are saved from being wasted; the knowledge and ideas of the past are utilized for the benefit of the present; what was right or wrong in the past is compared with the rights and wrongs of today so that we do not tread the same path and suffer from the same errors. This is valid for all nations of the world; the capacity of a language to express a thought is related to the level of development it has achieved, and a thought can become the instrument by which the language is tuned to this level of development.
If a language has not developed with its inner dynamics to voice the needs of all times, and therefore the users of that language cannot find the words corresponding to certain concepts, then that language is deprived of the support of thought, and its users are doomed to failure. In a time of industrialization, global commerce, and technological warehouses, no one should stay within the limited span of dictionaries in hand or what they hear and learn from the people around them. Otherwise, they will have to remain silent and merely listen to what others have to say—such indifference to the requirements of the modern age leads to disqualification from participation in contemporary societies.
The earnings of yesterday should be conserved as a cultural heritage and utilized today. Historical and social dynamics are the threads with which national ideals should be interlaced. By all means, this should be realized while opening up to tomorrow and embracing the modern age. As a matter of fact, yesterday has passed with all its frame of reference. What is more, reaching out to the future at full speed requires much more sustenance than we can draw from our homes, family, and immediate environment, though they may suffice for practical daily needs.
Failure is the inescapable end of the ill-fated and forlorn ones who are far from facing their era with their own language and thought. Just as important as ensuring language and thought survive is making them a property of the masses. Societies which do not think and speak will find others speak and think on their behalf. Logic is in disposal of the tongue in crowds where there is speech without thought. Those unfortunate ones who cannot put what they think into words are slaves of their incapability.
Although not in great numbers, there are still self-confident thinkers who can elaborate their thoughts. Nevertheless, they too are not free from problems. In many countries, those who look like the elite from the outside are in truth alien to their own society. The majority in their society respond to this elite with an inner opposition for they do not trust them, and their thoughts are perceived as nothing more than mere fantasy and imported views. You find the prose of these intellectuals written in their own language but with the mindset of an alien, and when they have to speak they feel the need to switch to the vernacular of their fellow countrymen; thus they travel in between several worlds in their inner presence, in a state of multiple belongings to different realms at the same time. They cannot adjust their hearts to beat in tune with the heart of their society, nor can they reflect the pattern of eloquence and power of expression embedded in their language. It would be naïve to expect some sort of valuable service from such people who are entrapped in contradictions within their personal world of thought.
For a language truly to become the medium of communication, the overwhelming majority of a society must be able to express themselves in it with full command and reflecting its true nature. Expressions in a complicated way like loading the real intention to diverse allusions or signs and relaying every subject in the form of detailed interpretations are obviously not the most agreeable types of presentation. Language is a phenomenon the worth of which lies intrinsically in itself, like other sciences, and perhaps its importance is even of a greater magnitude. Thus, any society should conceive of its language as a field of knowledge and the interest of the masses must be drawn to it as a pleasurable topic. This is possible only by way of a long list of tasks to do with language: a successful compilation of every single word, a careful study of manuscripts, a deep analysis of the methodology and stylistics of derivative forms in harmony with the peculiar nature of a language, to make widely known and used those words and idioms that have been in use over many centuries, firmly settled with all their nuances, and with their specific meanings revealed best in that language. It is of paramount importance for a nation to be respectful towards all these components of preserving a language. If all these can be achieved, then a language can stand on its own principles and rules, as rich, soft, and amiable as a language can be. Thus, a language can become the lingua franca of an age while maintaining its inherent logic; it will be in use delightfully and will be transferred from one generation to the next. Although this expectation does not seem theoretically or logically exaggerated, it is not easy to realize it; there will be challenges while putting it into practice. Something being logical might not always mean the same thing as the logic of its development, transformation, and maturation—the unfolding of events may follow a different path. In the case of constant change, the logic of development must be given priority above absolute logic, the reins controlling it must be loosed a little, and space for maneuver must be enlarged. If not, language and thought, both living phenomena, will become stagnant, as solidified as rock, and will lose their soul. Language has a determining influence on the national thought and worldview and their logical, intellectual structure. Language has to be in its prime to go beyond historical value and respond positively to every favorable development. Nations that can manage to develop their language and make it accommodating while at the same time staying faithful to the roots of it are the most communicative societies that are also most dynamic in thought.
The relationship between language and thought comprises cognitive and intellectual reflections on existence and events, transforming these reflections into sources of information, and becoming productive while forming links between the cosmos and our knowledge. The future prospects of a nation are very much dependent on evaluating these relationships. We should not cast everything that is old into oblivion, nor turn our face to the past and close our doors to what is new. Let us embrace the past with the utmost sincerity and at the same time salute the coming days with their open, new developments and transformations. Let us not cause any conflict between language and thought, between our past that is filled with exalted memories and our future that we strive so hard for; let us not sacrifice one for the other.
The roots that make up the national spirit should be determined with the help of research. While relying firmly on those roots, a society should endeavor to go beyond them. We should be conscious that revivification is necessary to survive and we must live in order to bear fruit. Our hearts should beat connected to our essential dynamics of our spiritual heritage, and our eyes should be fixed beyond the horizon. We should aim to live and flourish with an insatiable thirst for opening out—this is how it can be possible to make future generations survive, those generations to whose sake we should bind our existence.
It must be those selfless men and women, who are devoted to making others live and expect nothing in return, who cherish this life best with its all possible dimensions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen