Despite what Marshall McLuhan has said—and it is uncommonly difficult to determine precisely what he has said—the major traffic between minds still travels the roadway of the written and the spoken word, and is likely to do so indefinitely. Even without appealing to the basic text, “In the beginning was the Word,” one can confidently say that man was created with a verbal faculty and that this faculty not only provides the best tool for communication but constitutes in some subtle way a definition, in part, of man’s rational nature. To express it quite simply, man and God are word-using beings, and there is nothing in Scripture or in human semantic or linguistic study to suggest that any better basis of communion is inherently possible, at least so long as man is a terrestrial creature. Pictures are useful, as are gestures, diagrams, and examples; but one clear sentence is better than a thousand pictures in transferring an idea from one mind to another.
It may even be true, as some have maintained, that words are not merely the counters by which we reckon ideational quantities but are themselves the things we know. Nonsense, some would say. It makes no difference whether we use a word of Scandinavian derivation and say “sky” or one of French origin and say “ciel.” It is the same object. Precisely: the same object. But is it possible for us to possess an idea—an abstraction—in any container save that of words? The limit of our intellectual activity, the very horizon of our mental habitation, is our vocabulary. We may feel an emotion, point to an object, or smell a smell without words; but we cannot think a thought unless we have the words to think it with.
We do not communicate with words alone, of course. Words without syntax, ...1
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