The Power of Language

We communicate and relate to others through language. Not all of it has to be written or spoken. It can exist in many forms, such as computer code or even symbols, like the way a red light means stop. An example of this is American Sign Language, which allows people to sign their words. How we use language can provide identity.

We can learn about someone’s background in just a few words. The fact that there are so many languages means you can tell where someone is from in seconds. While there are many languages all over the world, almost every word in existence can translate to another language. That is impressive, especially considering different areas in the world have unique dialects. The United States is not just a melting pot in terms of all the types of people who live here. The English language is made up of words that started as the roots of other words from Latin and Greek. People are from all over the world, and that is reflected in our speech. On the West Coast, people “wait in line,” and on the East Coast, people “wait on line.” I’ve heard people in Indiana praise their accents over those in neighboring Kentucky. The world can feel small, but you can catch the subtle differences.

Words also speak about your education. Think of toddlers – at first, they can only say certain words as they need them. It is as far as their brains have developed. As time goes on, they learn how to string sentences together. By the time they are in high school and college, the way they talk says something about them. You might talk to your friends using slang, but it may not be appropriate to use slang when speaking to your boss or a teacher. The ability to differentiate between these two circumstances shows a command of language and an understanding of appropriateness.

We must be careful of what we say because words carry so much meaning. How many times have you said something thoughtlessly? Probably quite often because unlike term papers where words are chosen carefully, normal conversation does not always warrant much thought. I once had a friend talk to me about all that went wrong in her life. I kept saying “sorry” because I wanted to say something to comfort her. Instead, this upset her. She asked, “Why do you keep apologizing for things that are not your fault?” Saying “sorry” is meant to convey sympathy, but overuse can diminish the emotion behind the words. What you think is a casual remark could hurt someone else, and in turn, could shape their opinion of you.

Our location, education, and feelings are all conveyed in the words we speak and how we say them. That is why it is important to be yourself. People say you should think before you speak because you have no idea how much information is coded into every syllable. The next time you are out shopping or getting food, think of how you speak to the cashier or how they speak to you. You might earn more than you realize about communication if you pay attention.

Image: woodleywonderworks, Flickr