If I am sharing my thoughts and another person goes “oh, that’s relatable,” or “yeah, I totally get it,” and other variations like “I feel you on that one!” Do they, really? Is language ever enough, or is it a barrier? If so, what makes it so? Is it the number of possible words/combination of words or the extent of our comprehension of those words? Would understanding others be any easier if there was a more exhaustive language?

This is a packed question, but I’d appreciate it if anyone is able to share some output in an exhaustive manner as this is driving me into existential dread, heh.

  • 2
    But communication between people is not just the words they speak. There is more. And the participants bring a lot of baggage with them too.
    – Frank
    Apr 1, 2023 at 3:25
  • Communication is only about sending messages, not about grokking them. This isn't a human-specific issue: dogs and cats miscommunicate regularly due to differing norms of body language, and computer diagnostic logs are not necessarily reflective of a computer's internal state.
    – Corbin
    Apr 2, 2023 at 12:49
  • @Corbin I think I disagree. My brother once quoted someone as saying, "Communication is what I hear, not what you say." If I can't be understood by anyone, I'm certainly not communicating. As for animals, I remember someone who had a small farm saying that people misread animals, but "Animals never get their signals mixed up." In other words, if we watch animals, we're a lot less likely to get kicked or bitten, because they give adequate warnings, to us and each other. But what do I know? I'm just a quote-bot.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 2, 2023 at 17:20

4 Answers 4


You have thoughts and feelings. I have them too. How do we know how they interrelate? We can't ever be sure. Your experience of happiness may differ from mine, for example. Words, tonality and gestures are the main ways in which we try to exchange information about our thoughts and feelings, and they are very blunt tools. Even if we take great care to employ the tools with as much precision as they will allow, you have no guarantee that they will faithfully convey your intended meaning, partly because the counter-party in your conversation might well misinterpret them. Even if they accept your intended meaning it might mean nothing to them, since their mental 'instruction set' and memories (if I might borrow computing terms) might not be fully compatible with yours.

There are countless ways in which the thoughts and feelings of one human can be fundamentally incompatible with those of another. Consider the exquisite humour that pervades every page of my beautifully crafted novels (apologies for the blatant plug)- all of it can pass over the head of a reader with no appreciation for satire. I find certain books by PG Wodehouse to be a delight; some people find them utterly vacuous. I have an utterly irrational fear of heights- how can I truly convey what that is like to a daredevil with no fear whatsoever? How can I convey my utter contempt for certain politicians to their devoted supporters? How do I convey insights about Special relativity to someone who has no idea what I am talking about? How do I describe colours to a blind person?

Yes, having a vastly more nuanced vocabulary might be an aide to communication, but only up to a point. If the person with whom you are trying to communicate does not have a compatible set of emotional and conceptual building blocks they will never be able to relate the words they hear to a corresponding feeling or image in their own mind.

  • Yeah, I wonder if people get my books and writing too. At least in a conversation you have some feedback (to use a term from electronics). So, relating will never be perfect, but if it was, we wouldn't bother to converse at all.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 2, 2023 at 11:39
  • 1
    @ScottRowe I agree wholeheartedly! Apr 2, 2023 at 13:50

There's an awful lot packed in to this question, which makes it difficult to answer. You did get a comprehensive survey of the standard philosophical problem of other minds in response to your other question on this, so I guess that's not what you want. You are not asking whether language is enough to communicate truth, so we can leave that out of account.

Taking your questions "Is language ever enough, or is it a barrier? If so, what makes it so?", the short answer must be that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. When it isn't, there are other ways of communicating and these may be sufficient in themselves or may help. But sometimes it does seem impossible and sometimes language seems to get in the way.

What makes language enough depends on the participants, their relationship to each other and the understanding they already have of each other. If they think it is enough, then it is. Which is not to say that different interpretations may not arise later on.

An extended vocabulary might help. It is quite possible to develop new words or new ways to use existing words. It is not impossible to do this in the moment, and much more effective to do so in advance.

Much more effective is how one uses the language that already exists, particularly metaphor, which is a very powerful and effective tool. There's a famous example in philosophy, attributed to John Locke's "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding". There, he tells the story of a blind man who struggled to understand the things that sighted people said about the world around them. He finally announced in triumph that he now understood what red is - the sound of trumpets. Was he wrong? I don't think so.

  • "White cloak, red lining! How I know the feeling!"
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 2, 2023 at 17:24

To what extent can one admit that language is an adequate outlet for explicit feelings and experiencings?

An important part of any communication is mutual trust and trust is built with understanding. For language to be adequate to describe personal feelings requires an audience that you trust so when they say "I feel you", you can believe that your feelings and experiences have been properly conveyed.

There will always be uncertainty otherwise there would never be any misunderstandings.

  • So maybe we don't want to share feelings with everyone anyhow? We share them with people who might understand. We don't risk it with other people. Maybe the risk adds to the reward of doing it?
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 2, 2023 at 11:44
  • If I am sharing my thoughts and another person goes, "oh, that's relatable," or "yeah, I totally get it," and other variations like "I feel you on that one!" Do they, really?
    • No.
  • Is language ever enough, or is it a barrier?
    • it's not enough, and yes, it is a barrier.
  • If so, what makes it so?
    • Our consciousness has limitations.
  • Is it the number of possible words/combination of words or the extent of our comprehension of them? Would understanding others be any easier if there was a more exhaustive language?
    • With increased vocabulary, we can express our experiences and feelings better. But there will always be a limit at which you can do this.

To understand what is the purpose of language itself. It is no more than a tool to get some control over another person by playing with their felling. And speaking in such a way that makes the listener feel in a particular way.

It's very similar to using your hand. Can you move your hand 10 meters away from you like Mister Fantastic ? But we can think that.

You have to look at the other person and see how they react (including their words.) when you say someting things. If you say different words, the person will respond differently. Find a better way to speak, write poems, write letters, sing songs, or do whatever. And sometimes, not saying conveys more than words. You have to find the way; you are a man who masters the art.

Having limitations is beautiful,

What if I know exactly 
What are you asking? 
And What if you know exactly 
What am I answering?  
Ah, What then? 

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