The Language of the City

The city appears as the pinnacle of humankind’s triumphs, showcasing the glory and power of knowledge and culture. At once, it is the birthplace of the loudest human despairs; the place where humankind’s deepest dissatisfactions are formed and where social and political conflicts prevail. The city is embedded with mysteries and unexpected events. Filled with anticipations, anxieties, freedoms and opportunities; it simultaneously entails expression and repression, interaction and silence, globalism and narrow-minded localism, violence, reaction and innovation.


The city can be perceived as a work of art. Here, space, has not only been organized but has adhered to a particular pattern and become monstrously large and ordered. One can posit that a thorough consideration of the city would also be a revelatory exercise into the roots of how consciousness is formed vis-à-vis everyday realities. The complex and chaotic nature of experience, informs one’s initial understanding of the city and becoming urban. It is this chaos that forms eccentric ways of thinking, seeing and being.


Now the question remains; how can one uncover the depths of this mystery? How can this chaos be silenced and how are these conflicts understood? Can one interact with the city without comprehending its language? Do today’s urban languages relate to the phenomenon of the city that remains crucial to collecting and classifying information? If one considers the city to be the simultaneous coming together of people, objects and signs, isn’t this concurrency the very essence of linguistic confrontation within a complex and dynamic linguistic system? If the phenomenon of the city is a multi-faceted, multi-layered notion that carries multiple purposes, one can argue that the language of the city is nothing but an overall concept, consisting of many layers, many vocabularies and many grammars. Then, how can one interact with this without using a language that is as self-motivated, transient and multi-layered? In consequence, is there a way to comprehend the language of the city without understanding the process of how consciousness is urbanized? Lastly, is the language of the city the same as an urbanized language?


This writing is based on Henri Lefebvre’s work in The Social Production of Space and David Harvey’s writing on Consciousness and the Urban Experience.