Wednesday, 11 August 2010

WordPlay: a sumptuous video

A friend sent me this sumptuous video this morning: 

I watched it the first time and just enjoyed the pageant of sounds, images, and evocations. I felt that there was an inner logic but it evaded me, until my astute friend suggested I pay attention to how one scene after another portrays a different dimension of the semantic range of a given word, and then the lights went on. Still, the blurb on the web page seems to promise something more philosophically profound:
In this stunning video, filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordplay into a moving exploration of how language connects our inner thoughts to the outside world.
How does the video help us see this? I suppose it highlights the logic involved in expanding a basic meaning of a word (e.g. "fall" as a type of movement) to more metaphorical extensions ("fall" means "autumn" because that's when leaves fall).* But is that the criteria for their connections? In what sense are "light" as "luminescent" and "light" as "not heavy" connected? As far as I now their homophony is coincidental, as the two meanings seem to have two different roots. Is the idea rather that regardless of the etymology of a word, the fact that we now use a "word" (whatever that is: are "light" and "light" the same word?) to refer to a range of referents leads us to subconsciously see some kind of inner connection between the various referents? But that is bad linguistics, something that James Barr called "illegitimate totality transfer." As an Englishman I don't call Autumn "Fall," but that fact alone doesn't mean that I therefore perceive Autumn differently to an American.

Or maybe I'm missing the deeper point altogether, so please feel free to enlighten me. Yet even if the video doesn't have a deeper philosophical point, it's still beautiful to watch.

Check out their other awesome videos here.

* I'm aware that some debate the existence of "basic meanings." See, e.g., Clines' introduction to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. I side, however, with the views expressed by Michael Fox in his article on the semantic field of folly.

No comments: