Did you know that Eskimos have five words for snow while the Aztecs had one word for snow-rain-hail combined?

That which we do not have the vocabulary for, we tend not to notice. Those things which we notice, we create a vocabulary for. Through the processes of noticing, vocalizing, pondering and comprehending, we build up an understanding of the world in which we live.

“We speak of attention as noticing. To notice is to select, to regard some bits of perception, or some features of the world, as more noteworthy, more significant, than others. To these we attend, and the rest we ignore – for which reason conscious attention is at the same time ignoreance (i.e., ignorance) despite the fact that it gives us a vividly clear picture of whatever we chose to notice.” [1]

The double process of noticing is governed by:

(1) ‘whatever seems advantageous or disadvantageous for our survival, our social status, and the security of our egos’ and (2) the systems of notation that are ‘learned from others, from our society and our culture.’[2]

Our identity and our survival are connected to the aspects of life that we notice and that we ignore, all of which is intrinsically connected to our language.

Through this vocabulary, and the stories associated with them, we build up a self-centric idea about reality.

In this way languages play a paradoxically liberating and limiting role in our lives.

[1] Watts, Alan (1969). The Book : On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 35.

[2] Ibid. p. 35-6.