How is language symbolic?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a good question, and the answer is that language is symbolic in many ways.

First, language (written or spoken words) is just a symbol of something else. I can write the word heart, for example, but the word itself is not a heart. I can say the word peanut butter, but the word is certainly not edible. Language itself is symbolic of the words we speak and write.

Second, language is a symbol (a representation) of a culture. The words--both acceptable and unacceptable--which comprise a language reflect the culture of those who speak it. If a language has many definitions for a word such as love, for example, that is an indication of perhaps a more formal and precise culture. If a language includes a lot of acceptable slang, on the other hand, that is an indication of a less formal culture. (Sidenote: look at the words whicih have been added to the dictionary in the past few years to see where America is heading.) People think differently, and this is reflected in both an individual's and a culture's language.

Finally, language is often a symbol (a reflection) of intellect. Complex actions and accomplishments generally require communication, and a shared language is generally the most efficient and effective method of communication.

Language is symbolic in literature, of course, but it is also symbolic in other ways.

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