It Wasn’t Just “English” Pt 1Posted: August 2, 2011
English itself, as a language, is made up of two component languages; how it is Written and how it is Spoken. We tend to see these two as a pair, believing them inextricably linked. But they aren’t. As anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language can attest, proficiency in reading is not necessarily matched by proficiency in speaking, and vice versa.
Written language is almost universally a system whose purpose is to contain and store the phonetic syllables that make up a language. It is interesting to note that those languages that aren’t written to hold phonetic data (Say, for instance, binary or hexadecimal) are much more efficient at holding data, but nearly impossible to learn how to speak fluently.
Now take for instance, your average English peasant in the 14th century. Here is a person who works, accomplishes complex tasks, knows more about nature than most of our current generation ever will, but he cannot read. Not knowing how to read does not in any way inhibit his ability to communicate, or does it demonstrate anything about his intelligence. The only difference is that he just hasn’t learned the Written Language. All told, this metaphorical peasant knows his spoken language as well as you or I, his lack of knowledge surrounding the written portion does not stand in his way of that.
But, could you try to imagine someone just learning the written language, without the spoken portion? Take a hypothetical world where suddenly no one may speak, but they are forced to learn to write. It seems weird, doesn’t it. This is because spoken language is at the core of our language, spoken language is why our language exists. Learning how to read the letters that represent the syllables without learning how to say the actual syllables seems a little inefficient, doesn’t it. It seems in this way that learning a language requires first the form of its sounds, then the forms of its letters. Here is why.
In addition to the two languages we have learnt once we are free of grade school (being written and spoken English) we learn a third language, and we learn it from birth. There is a reason why a fight is a fight in any language, or why smiles don’t require you to learn Swahili just so you can see if they are smiling. The third language is that Universal Language that most everyone on this earth understands; Emotion.
It seems bloody obvious when I say it, doesn’t it. But of course it’s always the obvious factor that we miss. This human language is the most essential language we ever learn. Imagine not being able to tell someone’s emotion, not being able to pick up on subtle body language, and everything else we don’t even notice anymore. There are some forms of autism, brain disorders, and psychological problems that can prevent someone from learning to “speak human” as it were, and the handicap they suffer is as great as any paraplegic’s.
We don’t notice how ingrained emotional language is in our culture, nor do we have any great need to. But it is helpful when looking at any social interaction to realize the depth that such an interaction contains. Looking at a transcript is not the same as hearing a recording, which pales in comparison to being able to actually See the social interaction. Body language is just as important (if not more) to diplomacy as good rhetoric is.
I know this seems like a bit of a non sequitur, and I can freely admit that it started as such, but the significance of this is not to be downplayed. Part 2 will cover how this effects performance.