“Books must be treated with respect, we feel that in our bones, because words have power. Bring enough words together they can bend space and time.”
I want to talk about the legacy of Sir Terry Pratchett. I don’t mean his body of work, the novels, non-fiction, games, tv, etc. etc. I’m talking about a somewhat more profound, yet intangible legacy. I’m talking about how, through his words, he changed the way we think. About how, through the simple act of reading a Pratchett novel, the way you perceive the world is irrevocably changed.
Let me explain a little, from the beginning. I have a theory (it must be bunnies…no! Focus, woman). Perhaps I should rephrase that – there is a theory, known as ‘linguistic relativity’. The idea is that language influences our thoughts, and how we perceive the world. The strong version of this theory claims that language dictates thought - that the language we speak constrains our perception and cognition. A limited vocabulary means an equally limited world view. If you don’t know a word, you quite literally are unable to perceive, or think about the concept that word represents. The weaker version of the theory is that language merely influences thought, but does not determine it. In both cases, the crux of the argument is that humans rely on internal categories and concepts, in order to understand the flux of information we are bombarded with. The language we speak is part of this system of organisation; verbal labels assist us in making sense of and navigating our way through the world. Languages segment our experiences and perceptions in different ways – speakers of another language will literally see and describe the world differently. Take colour perception, for example. We perceive a particular wavelength of light, and label it with a colour name; this system is going to vary depending upon the language we speak. The colour one language defines as ‘green’, for example, may not even exist in another.
Okay, so far, so Psyc101. What is my point? (I have one, I promise). My point is that language isn’t just a means of communication, it is a weapon of sorts; change a person’s language, and you change the person themselves. Reading is a powerful way to deploy that weapon – when we read, it is not just a passive, transient activity which leaves us unchanged. When we read, the author’s words transmit meaning from their minds to our own, where it is processed and filtered and integrated. With each book you read, with every new concept you learn, with every new word that is added to your internal dictionary, the way you perceive and think about the world is changed forever. Pratchett, as all his fans know, was a master wordsmith. I know that I am not the same person after reading his novels compared to who I was before. My thoughts are different. The words I use are different. I view the world as being more complex and more wonderful and more strange than I did before. To me, this isn’t because of his characters or plot or humour. To me, it’s because each time I read a Discworld novel, Pratchett’s words percolate into my mind and mingle with my own. His language becomes my language, and his meanings become my meanings. My thought patterns are forever influenced by what I have read. And boom, everything else about me changes as a consequence. In my mind, this is Sir Terry’s legacy. The power of words.