Language and Communication

Colette GerstmannSeptember 3, 2018The Question of MeaningFeatures
Language and Communication

Artwork by Colette Gerstmann

We all know that language is an integral part of human life. Without it, thoughts could not be effectively expressed to others. Nobody would be able to teach or influence others, because nobody would be able to communicate.

Language and communication are always present in human life and are the reasons that civilization, values, and progress exist.

In school, we learn foreign languages so that we can communicate with people from different countries and cultures. Things we read every day — newspapers, street signs, price tags, awnings above stores, graffiti on the walls of buildings — give us information, instructions, and provoke emotions. Words can inspire us, offend us, brighten our day, sadden us, or teach us. Every word we hear affects us in some way.

We care a great deal about communication. We invent slang words, add new words to dictionaries, and develop and learn systems of communication such as sign language, which deaf people can speak, and braille, which blind people can read. We sometimes judge others based on how they use language, and often learn from those who speak eloquently and with a large vocabulary. When we have an idea in our head, we convert it into words and can choose to speak it out loud or write it down. Sometimes we don’t realize how powerful words are, and how much our words affect others.

Words shape who we are, both as individuals and as a collective. When we see things, we give them names: book, hand, telephone. People, too, have names, and so do places. Abstract things, like music and freedom, have names too, and for this reason we are able to use these ideas and communicate their importance to others. Without words for them, these ideas would be inexpressible. For example, in the book 1984 by George Orwell, there is a dystopian world where a language is being created to prevent the concepts of freedom, art, science, and love from being understood and communicated by mankind because there will be no words to express these ideas or anything relating to them. Therefore, the people who speak that language reflect the nature of the language itself, unaware of any existence of these concepts.

We know a word for each concrete thing we recognize; when discovering a new, unfamiliar object, we immediately think, “what is it?” We give a name to it and obtain information about it: naming it, and knowing the words used for it, are what defines our recognition of it. The same goes for abstract things and concepts. Therefore, a society in which the language does not leave out any words for known objects — a society where concepts can be expressed by mankind — is one that is truly free. Limited language puts constraint on thought. Imagine if you were forced to have a conversation with someone using only a small set of words — it would be very difficult, nearly impossible, to say what you want to. The broader one’s vocabulary, the more concepts one can express, the smaller the range of words, the more constrained communication is. This is why a healthy civilization ultimately depends on uninhibited language and freedom of speech.

The saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” meaning that the written word has more potency than violence. This is true because a community reflects the language and communication that prevail within it. People create language, which creates communities, which create people, and so on: it is a cycle. This cycle is constantly influencing the individual and the masses, reshaping societies through the eras. The language spoken and written within a society represents and forms the community’s values, nature, and culture.

Colette Gerstmann is an 8th grader at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. She lives with her parents, sister and dog. She likes animals, art, reading, writing, playing the clarinet, singing, playing tennis, and dancing.