Bare Necessities: English (or Language if your native tongue is different)

>> Friday, September 4, 2009


Language is all about the capacity to communicate with others. I would not be lying if I told you that the ability to communicate can be the difference between life and death, and the lack of ability to do so automatically leads to conclusions about cognizance, understanding and intellect. One reason cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are regarded so highly involves their ability to communicate with each other, presumably using language. Many insects (particularly communal insects like bees and ants) also have complicated and exhaustive methods of communication that add appreciably to their ability to survive.

People who can’t or won’t talk are routinely thought of as stupid or dumb (a word often used for mute), even if the reasons have nothing to do with intellectual capability. That lack of communication ability hampers children who communicate poorly (like autistic or dyslexic children) even if they are otherwise quite capable. The scope of the importance of communication is so vast, I’m all but stumped to try to describe it. Without communication, cooperation is impossible, communities destroyed, and chaos ensues. Everything we know about history, culture, every concept we cherish, every law, every emotion, every artistic ideal, has been expressed with language with the intent to teach or provide understanding or describe something. If language evaporated today, we’d wander around ignorant of our past, unlikely unable to make sense of the art and objects, perhaps even the music around us. I also believe we’d be looking for another method of communication immediately.

But language is more than just an expression of necessities, though that is its most basic function. It is also a creation of surpassing beauty and subtly, capable of putting not just pictures on paper (albeit using more than a thousand words), but also taste and touch, scent and hearing. In the hands of a master, it can wring emotion or horror from the reader, breathe life into a character that never existed, recreate worlds that have never been. It can influence the beliefs and lives of millions. It can touch hearts. It can express emotions so poignantly a reader can feel them as if they were his or her own.

Unfortunately, to do more than the basics, one must have more than a basic grasp of language. And a poor grasp of language can again give an outsider a skewed sense of (a) intelligence, (b) education, and (c) sensitivity. If you can’t express what you feel effectively, your husband won’t understand why you’re crying, and if he doesn’t have a good grasp of the intricacies and nuances of language he won’t understand it even if you DO express it effectively. In order to communicate effectively, both sides must have an understanding of language.

The best speaker in the world is wasted on the language-challenged. And many an important lesson has been lost because it was communicated poorly or to an audience incapable of understanding it. It is, in fact, a serious issue for scientists – the nuances of language specific to scientists and specialists have an entirely different slant/set of meanings for the public. What’s more, when someone believes they have an interpretation of what is being said/written (even if it’s completely wrong), it is all but impossible to disabuse them of that meaning even with extensive and exhaustive explanation…but that’s another blog post.

My point is that the study of language, specifically one’s native tongue, is critical for effective communication (crucial in nearly every endeavor out there), mental health, and fulfillment. There are few things more disheartening than not being heard and nothing is more likely to ensure a lack of audience than a poor grasp of language.

In my opinion.


  • The Mother

    And yet, so few people actually have mastered the craft.

    Even those who understand how to use words frequently don't get the other requirements--logic, rhetoric and analysis.

  • Anonymous

    Another great post! What always amazes (maybe horrifies would be a better word) me is that I have a fairly good vocabulary, good grammar skills and a fairly vivid imagination. But, there are experiences I have had that I've tried to put down on paper, and I realize that a reader would feel none of the wonder or awe I felt. I just don't have the skill to make them smell the smells, hear the birds or the wind in the background, to experience, through my writing, what I experienced. It makes me admire, all the more, those few rare writers with that ability. Sorry, I've almost written a book here.

  • Doctor Faustroll

    I don't think so. Homey don't play that. Tell me more. ;-)

  • Jeff King

    i agree Mrsbitch, but you can write that good it is your confidence that needs a boost... your point seemed to jump right off the page, never give up.... you can do it, i know it, but most important thing of all is you must know it. or it means nothing.

  • Patricia Rockwell

    Wow! I couldn't agree more! Which probably explains why my entire career was devoted to studying communication--and teaching communication.

  • Shakespeare

    Phew, for a second there, Jeff, I thought you were calling Rocket Scientist "MrsBitch"...but I need to READ first before writing.

    Communicating is so often thought to be one-sided: I should only have to say or write something, and it's your responsibility to read it exactly as I intended.... only that simply isn't the way it works. For good communication to happen, both the writer/speaker and his or her audience must have some skill in it. Otherwise either the meaning of a good writer/speaker is lost, or readers have very little of substance to deal with, making them frustrated.

    Yet when both elements are there, oh, what we can accomplish!

  • Relax Max

    Just this morning, while staring into the mirror debating on whether or not to bother to shave on a Sunday (you have convinced me in other posts that there is no God, so I have stopped going to church) I decided to follow your advice and study my tongue. As far as I know, it was my native tongue.

    Now, having studied my tongue (or at least contemplated it for several seconds before returning to bed) I feel more qualified to understand your speeches. Perhaps even some of Shakespeare's as well. Perhaps not.

    I will be the first to admit that I may very well be ignorant; but at least I am not very well read.

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