Arguably, we are all masters of our first language(s). In many domains, improvisation is the showcase of ultimate mastery, no? Can we go the other way around and say that when using language we are constantly improvising? The author of this blog post certainly found this idea far-fetched at first. Here, we try to unpack the commonalities between musical improvisation and every-day speaking. Read along and learn what Johann Sebastian Bach, Anthony Hopkins, and Michael Jordan have in common.
Can language make us see?
Imagine an elephant. One of those African bush elephants. Large ears covering its shoulders; a powerful trunk falling to the ground; a pair of magnificent ivory tusks.
Were you able to see it? If so, it is tempting to jump to a conclusion: Yes, language makes us see things we are not currently perceiving through our eyes. But does your mental picture of an elephant have anything to do with real vision? Here’s the answer.
We are used to thinking that what we see accurately represents our environment, give or take an occasional lapse of attention. We talk about eyes as being windows to the outside world, allowing us to ‘see reality’. However, research has recently shown that the whole picture is not quite so simple. As it turns out, the way we see our surroundings is very much shaped by our knowledge, experience, and expectations. And one of the things that seems to have the biggest impact on our perception is actually our language.