Academic journal article Theory in Action

Problematic Communication and Theories of Language in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Problematic Communication and Theories of Language in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Article excerpt

The genetic endowment that most readily distinguishes the human species is the faculty of language, and in many ways the use of language is at the centre of the human experience, facilitating interpersonal relations, mediating thought, and communicating thoughts and emotions. Yet despite the centrality of language to the essence of the human experience, its nature is somewhat opaque and - judging by Plato's Cratylus, the biblical Tower of Babel, and much 20th century philosophy - a source of enduring fascination. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez explores a number of theoretical aspects of language, and in so doing, develops a surprising tension between the interpersonal function of language as a communicative tool, and its cognitive function as a mediating tool of thought. Although thought is ever present, Garcia Márquez recognizes that there is something miraculous yet delicate in successful communication, and that problems of communication are far more common than we assume. Three recurring types of interaction problem are illustrated throughout the novel: the inability to communicate, the lack of will to communicate, and miscommunication. These serve various purposes in the novel, but all contribute to a fundamental theme of personal isolation.

The most well-known of the ancient tales of problematic communication is the Tower of Babel myth, in which the construction of the great tower is abandoned when God divides human language in order to thwart the builders' efforts. As such, it is not only a tale of problematic communication and interpersonal division, but also an early attempt to explain language phenomena, in this case language diversity. Allusions to Babel in One Hundred Years of Solitude are part of the broader context of biblical references, but they also develop specific themes related to language and the relation between miscommunication and solitude. An assumption at the heart of the Babel myth is that there was an original language from which all others are descended. Such a view has persisted through time, and various arguments, generally reflecting some ethnic or sectarian bias, have been put forward in identifying this presumably innate language. For instance, in attempting to prove his hypothesis, King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) replicated earlier experiments of having a pair children raised together in isolation. The reported result was unequivocal: the children did develop fluent Hebrew (Fromkin, Blair, & Collins, 1999, p. 49). Others which were claimed to be this original language are Phrygian, German, Aramaic, and Chinese (p. 49).

In García Márquez' s writing, it is Latin that is presented, tongue in cheek, as the original, innate language. In A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, Father Gonzaga greets the title character, an angel, in Latin, but immediately suspects some type of hoax when the angel fails to respond, evidently not understanding "the language of God" (219). In fact, the angel speaks in an "incomprehensible dialect with a strong sailor's voice" (218). The inference, quite in keeping with much Latin American Catholicism, is that the poor and disenfranchised are closer to heaven than those at the top of the political and socio-economic hierarchy. The humour in this passage arises from the combination of Father Gonzaga's conviction, and our immediate sense that although his argument is valid, he fails to recognize the fundamentally unsound premise (Latin spoken in heaven) on which it is constructed. Garcia Márquez' s target here is both the dogma and snobbery surrounding Latin, and the acceptability of flawed logic in theological debates.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez returns to this idea. As José Arcadio Buendia descends into madness, convinced that the world was stuck on Monday, he is reduced to an animal state, tied to a tree in the courtyard, frothing at the mouth and "shouting like a man possessed in some high-sounding and fluent but completely incomprehensible language" (81). …

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