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The Mening Of Language

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The focal point of this paper is to determine the purpose of language or rather to find answer to the question ‘What Is the Meaning of Language?’ It can be mentioned that the meaning of language is specifically depended on the fact that the person using the language is using it up to the potential of the subject or not. Thus it can be stated that the meaning of language is power and this is the basic thesis statement of this paper. This paper would venture into the world of an individual to obtain strong points that would determine the truthfulness of this thesis statement that meaning of language is power.

If the person is not using the subject to its potential then there remains every chance that the basic meaning would be lost and the potential usage and ability of the subject would fail to render any consequences. Language can be seen as a barrier by some who are not able to access it and language can appear as a decisive tool or instrument to the people who are able to understand its potential and use it to its optimum level.

Thus judging by the potentiality of this instrument it can be ascertained that language can be translated into power. Power that enables a person to understand his place in the universe, his place in the society and the place he possesses within himself. It is this power that makes him aware of the existence of his being and these results into self respect and self belief. It is a wide known fact that any act of self belief is the foundation stone of any success, no matter how big or small it is.

Logically enough the meaning of power then translates from a tool of exercising power to an ideology of self belief. The same conclusion can be obtained from the text `Coming into Language` by Jimmy Santiago Baca which is actually the first chapter of the book by the name Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio illustrated by Adam Hernandez and published by Red Crane Books in May 1994. This 182 page book reflects the insight of the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and the first chapter of the book reveals his affairs with words and language in general.

The meaning of language comes thick and of great value at a quite early age to Jimmy Santiago Baca and it came more out of compulsion than choice. He was basically a school drop out and in his own word, “ashamed of not understanding and fearful of asking questions, I dropped out of school at ninth grade. At seventeen I still didn’t know how to read.” (Baca 4, 1)

However it must be mentioned that the vicinity of books for Jimmy Santiago Baca was not entire of sublime love towards books but more of an animal instinct drive. As he was convicted and locked up he used to work on his pranks. “On slow night I would lock the door of the administrator’s office, search the reference library for a book on female anatomy and, with feet popped on the desk, leaf through the illustrations, smoking my cigarette, I was seventeen.”(Baca 3, 1) But soon he came upon an illustrated book called 450 years of Chicano: History in Picture.

This book narrated the struggle of the Chicano population and their hardship of staying alive. According to Jimmy Santiago Baca “this book told us we were alive” (Baca 4,1) because they too had the to fight against adversities too like the Chicano people and this book along with its illustrations and language gave him the hope that was so needed in the dungeons. Thus it can be readily seen that language is indeed more than written and spoken words because it has the power to provide a downtrodden and subjugated person like Jimmy Santiago Baca optimism and identification so important for his moral.

Later when Jimmy Santiago Baca was again convicted and put into prison he came across few very interesting people in the lockup. This incident is enough to prove that there is more to language than meets the eye. According to his own words, “there I met men, prisoners, who read aloud to each other the works of Neruda, Paz, Sabines, Nemerov, and Hemmingway.” (Baca 4, 3)

This was almost a turning point of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s life. He came close to the wonderful world of language and joy where he “never felt such freedom as in that dormitory”. (Baca 4, 3) The works of some of the noted author of the modern era revealed themselves to the mind of young Jimmy Santiago Baca the words acted not just as a medium of communication but a path of knowledge and enlightenment.

This was the time Jimmy Santiago Baca “I felt the invisible threat from without lessen” (Baca 4, 3). This realization gave him the added thrust to pursue the world of language because “their language was the magic that could liberate me from myself, transform me into another person, transport me to other places far away”. (Baca 4, 3) This is the special power of language and Jimmy Santiago Baca is a prime example of a person who had visualization to obtain the most out of the words and language as a whole.

“I began to learn my own language, the bilingual words and phases explaining to me my place in the universe” (Baca 5, 1) exclaims Jimmy Santiago Baca as he wondered around the staircase of the world of words and gradually understanding the dignity of being alive and being a human. This is how language played the role in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s life to understand his identities as human beings. As a result he remarks that “Every day I felt like a paper boy taking delivery of the latest new of the day”. (Baca 5, 1) This was as if language was keeping the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s life updated with the greater world and where he was finally able to find and determine his own position. (King, 17, 3)

One very interesting point in this regard is the author’s use of metaphors. Here he uses two specific metaphors to signify the value of language. These are “Rebirth” and “Building Bridges”. The metaphor of rebirth is extremely relevant to the text. This is because the situations that engulfed the author Jimmy Santiago Baca in his initial stages of life had no future but to end up in some horrified dungeon for the greater part of his life. But it was language that gave him the opportunity to move beyond his usual circumstances of living in dark alleys and develop himself into a launching pad where form he was able to pursue a better and cleaner life. This is rebirth for the author and very correctly so without any doubts.

The other metaphor in the text is the term “Building Bridges”.  The main implementation of this term is revealing the ability of communications that develops between person to person, person to the outer world and most of all communication between the person with the inner person. The author Jimmy Santiago Baca certainly proves to be the best example of this metaphor. Being in the gloomy and sinister environment where his initial life belong language was the only mode of light that could ever give him luminosity.

Language also became something more than the words and identification too for Jimmy Santiago Baca. It became the tool of protest and revenge as he states while he was condemned without proper proof. He narrates this incident of dissent and vengeance as “when they went to the bathroom to pee and the desk attendant walked to the file cabinet to pull the arrest record, I shot my arms through the bars, grabbed one of the attendants university text books and tucked it in my overall. It was the only way I had of protesting.” (Baca 5, 4)

Thus it can be seen that to a person like Jimmy Santiago Baca language can be a multi dimensional tool of survival strategies. For Jimmy Santiago Baca language comes out of the text books and printed material to ascertain the proper value of existence and survival in proper and just manner of sanity so much so that he tries to breaks all barriers to use language as a medium of protest too. As a result it can be ascertained that the meaning of language is much more far spread than it is conceptualized in common conceptions. (Lamb, 323, 4)

It is true that the meaning of language varies from person to person and beholder to beholder but the end means of language is to provide an effective instrument of self realization and self enlightenment other than being just a medium of communication. It is true the meaning of language is vast and it can be determined that everything that has been mentioned in this regard and in the relation to the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s life is the understanding of this vastness and its meaning. The poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s life is taken into consideration in this observation because none knows the power and the meaning of language better than him and the entire scenario narrated till now proves only that with a capital T for truthfulness.


Baca, Jimmy Santiago; Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio; Red Crane Books; May 1994

King, H; Words Today; HBT & Brooks Ltd; 2001

Lamb, Davis; Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization on the Strategic Strata; National Book Trust; 2004

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