“J’ai accompli de délicieux voyages embarque sur un mot”
“Just a single word has launched for me many wonderful adventures”
If there was a single phrase or word that could describe my summer abroad it would be “meaning” and its relationship to language and life. By “meaning”, I mean the full spectrum of implications for this word. The most obvious of these examples is how meaning relates to the study of a foreign language in a foreign country. However, the real value of this word and the many wonderful adventures it has launched is far more complicated.
Meaning is difficult to conceptualize. Ultimately all meaning rests on definitions and assumptions about its underlying significance. Individuals make initial assumptions about the meaning of something by attempting defining it. This assumption, allows them to proceed on and ask the bigger questions. If two cannot agree on a definition then they will always move in different directions.
Putting this abstract explanation into practice one finds that the implications for meaning and its relationship to language and living are endless. Whenever one meets a new person (as I did throughout my summer in France) the success of such a new relationship rests on the ability for these individuals to communicate clearly and effectively with a meaning that both parties can understand. Depending on these people’s conceptualizations or definitions or understanding of meaning, these relationships can move into radically different directions.
Throughout my summer in France I found myself having to confront this same problem again and again. Meeting people and getting to know them in a language other than your first is poses its own problems. The social and culture differences can lead to very different understandings of one another’s motives, beliefs, and intentions. However, this same difficulty applies to meeting and getting to know people in one’s own language. The same problems can apply and if there are people whose motives, intentions, or beliefs are misinterpreted by others, then it can take the relationship in a different place than the two parties wish (for better or worse).
At the same time, despite these differences in language and meaning, there seems to be some universal understanding that exists underneath the surface. It is important, I think, in navigating between all of these problems of language and communication to always seek out these universal meanings. That is probably the greatest experience I have taken from my time in France. Despite all of humanity’s differences in culture, language, politics, and society and all of the conflicts that it creates, there is some notion of a common human experience. I don’t know what this is and may never be able to explain it intelligently but I do believe it exists and we should always seek it out.
~Ollie Garland 2012