Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least – at least I mean what I say – that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"
"You might just as well say," added the Dormouse, which seemed to be talking in its sleep, "that 'I breathe when I sleep' is the same thing as 'I sleep when I breathe'!" (Wonderland 7.15-19)
There is, of course, a grammatical lesson here: word order is crucial to meaning in the English language. (In other languages, sometimes it's less important or not important at all, such as the Latin that Alice's brother studies.) But beyond that, there's a reminder that little differences can cause huge misunderstandings. Communicating exactly what you mean to another person is far more difficult than it first appears.
Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. "I don't quite understand you," she said, as politely as she could. (Wonderland 7.31)
Language is meant to be a communication tool, so when it fails – or actually hinders understanding – Alice is very confused.
"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don't know exactly what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate – " (Looking-Glass 1.40)
What Alice seems to be describing is the way that language can give you an emotional sense of something even when you don't understand all the specific details. In this case, after reading "Jabberwocky," she feels the gist of the poem – a man killed a monster – even though she couldn't define any of the actual words. This suggests that language has several levels; we could call them, for example, denotation (the dictionary definition of a word, its exact meaning) and connotation (the feeling and implications of a word). Alice also uses the influence of context to infer the meaning of the words in the poem.