What is language?

Via Cory Doctorow at Boingboing, a non-verbal autistic woman presents us with a video at Youtube, in which she speaks her own language, using gestures and sounds we don’t readily recognize as language, and visual cues that aren’t recognized as “normal” communicative cues either.  She then translates the first two sections with the aid of a text-to-speech computer program. It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring.  In it she talks about the definitions of what is considered to be language and what is considered the non-responsive behavior of a person with autism, and compellingly relates the argument that until we are able to recognize the many shapes that humankind has, we will never have equality, nor truly see ourselves, as a species, for what we are.

I was caught up watching this video because my story “The Language of Moths” has within in it an autistic character who may be in communication with the world of nature around her, interacting with it in a way most people don’t recognize as language.  I knew when I wrote this story there would be readers who would inherently dislike the story because it is a speculation on the very idea presented in this video, that perhaps what we are unable to recognize in the array of behaviors non-verbal autistic people display is an actual language, just one we don’t understand.  This is a controversial idea in that we live in a culture that has socialized the idea that anything that departs from “normal” conventions of language and identity articulation, as well as a good many other aspects of being human, is a disorder.  This allows us to believe that we actually have a centralized, unified definition of what is human, what is right, what is normal, and what is real.  In a way, in our attempts to categorize the not-understood as a disorder, we are cutting ourselves off from various avenues of exploration to better comprehend the variations in people among us, and the environment in which we all live.

 Food for thought, if nothing else, is a start.

And also, here is the video-maker’s own website.

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