Why language matters
How many times have you used language today?
- Have you read a word on a sign?
- Or have you spoken to someone?
- Let words structure your thoughts?
➤ Language matters.
It is an unsung hero that subtly permeates every aspect of our daily lives since language matters greatly, sometimes unnoticed.
Aristotle postulated that the capacity to reason, which distinguishes humans from animals, depends on language.
The language was the very element that gave our prehistoric ancestors a competitive edge over other hominid species,
⤷ thus, allowing them to survive and flourish over the centuries through the establishment of communities.
Indeed, language is a unique trait that lies at the very core of the human experience.
Functions of language in communication
Deep down, we know language is essential in our lives, even when we take it for granted.
→ There is no question about it.
But we may have trouble pinpointing exactly why language matters so much.
Edward Sapir argued that it is difficult to identify the functions of language because it is so inextricably entrenched in the character of human behavior.
Language is second nature to us, just part of how we navigate life.
Language can be considered comparable to the five senses; we:
⤷ without necessarily realizing we’re doing it — until something threatens to take those senses away:
- Maybe you lose your glasses and remember how important your sense of sight is.
- Or you catch a cold, and your senses of smell, taste, and even hearing are dulled for a few days, making you wonder how you ever forgot about them.
➤ The same goes for language.
We use it subconsciously until its loss.
Maybe a trip abroad shines a spotlight on its importance.
While acknowledging how difficult it is to pinpoint language functions, Sapir suggested that there is little in our behavior that does not hinge on language.
language MATTERS in the transmission of information
At the very surface, language is how we communicate information.
This claim goes without saying.
In our modern-day world, information constantly bombards us.
- We read news articles online;
- we seek Dr. Google’s advice,
- we scan job postings,
- we receive texts from friends giving us the latest update on their lives.
And in all of these instances, we would be hard-pressed to find a situation in which the acquisition of information didn’t involve using words:
- either written
- or spoken.
Even when we are not actively seeking information, we receive it through linguistic cues.
→ Maybe you’re riding on the bus and overhear two ladies talking about their vacations:
- Just like that, you find out that a weekend trip to Rome costs 499 euros.
- You are now the proud owner of that piece of knowledge, even though you didn’t seek it out, thanks to language.
Isolated verbal interactions build-up, creating an intricate database of information we store in our minds and revisit as necessary.
Without the written or spoken word, the transmission of any information would suffer much.
language MATTERS in emotional expression
As we peel back the layers of linguistic function, we find that language is central to emotional expression.
- How would we ever communicate something as abstract as an emotion if we didn’t have language?
- Also, how could you express that distinct, bittersweet feeling you have as you get ready to start a new life in a new city?
- And how could you make your friend understand that mixture of nostalgia, sadness, loss, excitement, and optimism you feel if you can’t describe that unique emotion through words?
Even though language falls short in situations like this, it provides a crucial framework.
It can be easy to underestimate the importance of emotional expression, but the truth is that it lies at the very core of the human experience.
This human condition is precisely why art forms such as poetry have been so pervasive.
We have the intrinsic need to cathartically express our emotions, often using words as an outlet.
Besides, it is only through a mutual revealing of thoughts and feelings that we:
- build trust with one another and
- forge the solid friendships and familial relationships that provide:
– and safety.
Without the bonds that emotional expression creates, society would disintegrate.
After all, there would be no reason to live in the community if we didn’t find support in those who surround us.
language MATTERS in culture
When we zoom out and get a bird’s-eye view of the society, we can see that language often serves as an expression of social identity,
⤷ acting as a reflection of the culture that created it, the reality that gave birth to it, preserving that culture over time.
→ Many of us are familiar with the feeling of kinship we get when running into a person who speaks our language while traveling abroad:
- That sense of familiarity and comfort instantly creates a bond.
- Common language:
– appeals to our understanding of identity
– and gives us a sense of belonging.
For centuries, the spoken word was the means through which primitive societies could ensure they would pass their culture on to future generations.
Orally transmitted stories handed down from parents to children to grandchildren preserved cultural identity.
People found a sort of map, hidden within that language, guiding how they were to live their lives within that society, defining traditions and norms.
Language is a social product that a particular group’s needs, values, and priorities mold, mainly carrying its DNA.
It’s no wonder that UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity asserts that people have the right to express themselves in the language of their choice and to obtain an education that respects their cultural identity.
A sense of cultural belonging is an integral part of the human experience.
For instance, around 70 different languages are still spoken today in Canada, but only two are expected to survive throughout the next few generations: English and French.
However, recognizing the in-depth cultural content and sense of identity rooted in language, people are starting to revive these indigenous languages, reclaiming a rich, nearly-lost legacy.