This essay focuses on, “Why do we even bother to communicate?” It also talks about the use of “language” as a mode of communication and few of language’s sociological implications.
In my opinion what really sets us apart from all other animals as human beings is our ability to communicate incredibly extravagant and elaborate thoughts as well as our ability to store ideas in physical formats like carvings, sculptures, paintings, books etc. It has been an innate desire for us to reach out to other beings within our environs.
The desire to communicate is merely “human syndrome” as is the desire to eat, need for locomotion, sexual drive, love, hate and I would even include vengeance this list. I just call these qualities human syndrome because I don’t quite know why they are intrinsic. However I do know that we use communication for one very important purpose which may not be intrinsic, we communicate to assert our presence.
We communicate with other individuals perhaps to reach out to them but I believe that our communications are more specifically for the purpose of letting others have access to us. In communicating with another individual we not only form a bond with them but also allow them to form a bond with us. It is my opinion that we communicate with others to reassure ourselves that we are not alone… that we are not lonely.
Considering the various means of communication and even the ones at the biological level like human pheromones, one must not forget the major role that language plays in communication. “Language is, after all, spoken by people in social context as they communicate about human concerns.” [i] We use language as a more sophisticated tool for communication than gestures and facial expressions. And this sophistication, I believe, is not intrinsic and is strictly acquired. The spoken language that an individual uses, particularly the accent or the dialect would be acquired from the person’s regional origin; it would also be affected by the person’s social class and by the kind of education the person has received. In this manner the language that a person uses would symbolize the person’s identity much like other social codes like dress and behavior. An individual’s use of a particular dialect would certainly indicate that person’s association to a particular group. However, our identities are dynamic and are molded constantly and sometimes greatly reformed due to our interactions with other individuals, groups and by our institutional surroundings. We maintain our individuality and at the same time mingle with various different groups by using varieties of a language. “Being able to show that [one] can use linguistic terms appropriately according to the norms associated with a particular group helps to establish [one’s] memberships to of it.” [ii] The language an individual uses does signify that individual’s identity in terms of gender, age, socio-economic class and ethnicity. More importantly, though, it signifies the individual’s level of sophistication.
Of course, due to our lack of vocabulary and grammar or a bizarre attempt to make use of a more sophisticated variety of a language, communication breakdowns may occur. Difficulties in understanding or misunderstanding result from our habit of interpreting everything we receive from the external world in our own biased manner. Perception may be entirely different from sensation because something called the “mind” comes in between sensation and perception. As such, it can be very difficult to communicate over the barrier of a prejudiced, undernourished mind. But this does not mean that all of us are at a total loss of understanding and comprehension. We do make a considerable effort at trying to communicate.
In order to understand the words of an individual we must understand his or her sociological environs and to understand that individual’s sociological environs we must understand his or her words.
We merely have to deal with the above stated catch-22 every day of our lives and I think we start formulating strategies to cope with it from our very inception into this world. Infants try to speak words and utter word like sounds even though they might not know the meaning of the word. Or perhaps it is adults who don’t know the meaning of the words uttered by babies. This just shows human kind’s tremendous struggle to communicate ideas; it is not only the baby that struggles to communicate – all of us do. Communication is a struggle that every individual goes through at every point of his or her life and what’s worse is that every now and then we may even struggle to communicate with and understand ourselves.
i Kramarae, Cheris et al. (1984). Language and Power, page 9, Sage Publications Inc.
ii Thornborrow, Joanna (1999). Language and Identity, Language, Society and Power. Ed. Thomas, Linda and Wareing, Shan, page 143, Routledge.
This was an essay I had written in December 2003 during the first semester of my bachelors in mechanical engineering. I found it today while looking for some files and I’m so proud of myself… even back then, without formal training in linguistics or in philosophy of language, I knew better than speech community historians who go around calling themselves linguists. Currently my opinions on language are more of an upgrade to the ones expressed in this essay. I used to think that our ability to use language distinguished us from other animals but now I hold that language and communication are identical concepts. Things other than human beings also have linguistic capabilities and might be expressing incredibly complex and sophisticated thoughts to each other in their own idiosyncratic ways. Yes, speech community historians can’t possibly stomach the notion that we aren’t particularly distinguished compared to the rest of animal kingdom or even inanimate things.
- An article by Louise Altman. I’m linking this article here because my personal focus on communication research is within industrial context and work ethics: People Are Not Direct Reports – How Language Reflects Power (intentionalworkplace.com)
- This article is by Gord Carkner. I basically like his notions of “homo linguisticus”: A Wager on Language (ubcgcu.org)