One of the things that contribute to our identity is language. In considering what we would least like to lose, language is often neglected. People mention sight, hearing, mental impairment as faculties that they could not do without, yet language, if it became unavailable, would cause untold difficulties in our everyday lives.
Language is communication. A baby learns to talk quickly because then it can make its wishes known, even if it’s only monosyllabically. Childhood development depends on language development. A child who cannot talk, or read adequately at an early age, is doomed to be disadvantaged thereafter.
In social interaction, language affects how others see us and how we see those with whom we fraternise. Status can be inferred by language. Those who speak well, know forms of politeness, have extensive vocabularies, and are witty, are often deemed to be socially desirable. Many people, for instance in job interviews, are firstly judged on appearance, then by how they speak. Written applications are often rejected if grammar and spelling are inaccurate.
Context also affects language. In many cultures, there are taboo words. these words can cause offence if uttered or written in situations that are not appropriate. Certain words are not politically correct, and swearing can be completely out of order. Culturally or religiously sensitive contexts can make certain words and expressions a violation of what normally would be expected.
Language can be used to separate, or maintain secrets. Jargon is often used by professionals to keep outsiders from knowing the inner workings of organisations and institutions. Teenagers often use ‘teenspeak’ to keep their parents out of the loop. There is ‘hatespeak’ to express racist or prejudicial ideas. Some people have pet names for their beloved. We can ‘personalise’ language to meet our individual needs, but we should never lose sight of the social responsibilities we have in communicating with others.
Of course, there are pleasant aspects of language. There is ‘the language of love’ which has inspired poetry, letters, songs and personal declarations. Language can invoke sympathy and reassurance. Humour is a wonderfully therapeutic use of language.
All in all, we should appreciate how language is a superbly effective for communicating how we feel, what we think, and even what we hope for. Our own language defines us. We can be better if our language is better. Each day, let us work to improve and extend our language.