When asked about the role of language in everyday life, most people would likely come to the same answer: communication. It’s true that communication and language go hand in hand. After all, we use language to identify people and objects in our life. One of the most common first words of an infant are some variation upon “mom” or “dad,” or some other name related to their caregiver. Furthermore, words were the first means after crying or smiling we had to communicate how we feel to the outside world. From a very young age, we used language to tell people that we were hungry. The same goes for if we were hot or cold, happy or sad, comfortable or scared, and so on.
However, language goes beyond just the expression of our needs and our feelings; the words we use and the language we speak reflect so much more than just communication. Language is a means to express one’s culture, value system, and group affiliations. It can affect our mental wellbeing as well as our world, as words used to advocate for justice and social change can spark revolutions. Although we don’t think about it on a daily basis, language helps define who we are. The language we use can even have specific, direct effects on our physical health.
The Power of Language
Researchers in Colorado College once set up an interesting sleep study. They wanted to explore ways for someone to feel more well rested in their everyday life, even if they had suffered from insomnia or sporadic, low-quality sleep the night before. They recruited students for their study, and these participants would rate how well they felt they had slept the night before, on a scale from 1 to 10.
After that, these student participants were informed about the facts of sleep research. The researchers explained that being well rested increases an individual’s ability to perform well on tests. The researchers then hooked them up to machines that participants were told would monitor their heart rate, pulse, and brainwaves. Then they told the students to go to sleep.
This is where the researchers got a little sneaky. The equipment did not really monitor heart rates or pulse. Once the students woke up, researchers told one group of student participants that they had a good-quality sleep, and the other group was told they hadn’t slept well.
Then all the students were made to take a test. The results showed that the students who were told they had gotten good-quality sleep (regardless of if they had or not) did better on their tests then the students who believed they had gotten a bad night’s sleep. This study presented scientific evidence that just telling someone they had gotten a good night’s sleep can make them perform better on tests.
These results suggest that just using language to provide yourself with positive reinforcement can actually alter your mind for enhanced performance. By the same token, however, this study strongly suggests that using language to repeatedly discuss how tired you are may actually have a negative impact and amplify your feelings of fatigue. It seems that the power of language can directly affect brain function.
What Is Linguistics?
The average person has likely heard the term “linguistics,” but they may not understand what the term fully encompasses. Linguistics is the scientific study of language, including its structure, how it varies among different languages, and how the human brain learns to form simple words into complex, rhetorical structures, like sentences and paragraphs. What the average person is likely less aware of is the fact that linguistics also studies how language directly affects and speaks to human social behavior, and even to culture itself.
Before exploring the vast power of language, it is interesting to learn some different types of linguistic studies. Some of study of languages include the following:
- This is the study of speech at the very basic sound level.
- This is the study of the sound systems of language.
- This type of linguistics examines the very structure of words.
- This looks at how words can be put together to form larger thoughts, such as sentences.
- This also focuses on sounds of words and examines the way words sound and are put together into the different languages across the world.
It is interesting to note that, even at these fundamental levels of language study, culture and what connects us to each other come into play. The very sounds of language help people identify with their country or place of origin and the people with whom they are most likely to bond and form communities. Even regional accents within countries can bond people in special ways.
Other Forms of Linguistics
Some other forms or examples of linguistics include:
Sociolinguistics is the scientific study of, among other things, where slang comes from! If you’ve ever wondered where new words or new meanings of words come from, spreading like wildfire across the internet, you may want to consider a career studying sociolinguistics.
Psycholinguistics studies the specific ways language is processed in the brain, sometimes even down to the neurological level. If you’ve ever wondered why a child can learn a language so quickly or how they can pick up a second language with relative ease, you may want to take a deep dive into psycholinguistics to learn more.
When it comes to language and linguistics, there is a lot going on in our minds and in our bodies. Perhaps this is why language brings us all together to connect and thrive.
How can computers analyze and comprehend language? What are the capabilities and future possibilities for computers to understand phonology, semantics, and syntax and to analyze or even mimic it? This is what computational linguistics sets out to discover. This type of linguistics is especially interesting because as researchers learn more about the relationship of language to computers themselves, they begin to learn more about what exactly language says about us humans.
How Does Language Connect?
Dan Jurafsky is a respected Stanford University professor in the Department of Linguistics. He believes that language is so much more than just a means of communication between individuals. Instead, he asserts that, “Discovering what’s universal about languages can help us understand the core of our humanity.” In other words, what makes us who we are is at the very heart of the language we use.
Imagine living in a world where we could not form the words to tell our loved ones we love them. Of course, there are many ways to show love for one another besides verbal language. While you may be familiar with some basic signs in American Sign Language (ASL), there are many sign languages spoken across the world, all with different dialects and slang of their own as well—Chinese Sign Language (CSL), British Sign Language (BSL), Brazilian Sign Language (called LIBRAS, for Língua Brasileira dos Sinais), to name a few.
Additionally, while the science of behavioral analysis is shaky, it cannot be denied that there is a lot that can be expressed through body language. Even animals use it. Cats are experts at telling their owners that they are happy and comfortable: purring, blinking slowly, et cetera. Sea otters float through the ocean holding hands so as not to become separated. Chipmunks have been known to rub their noses together, elephants use their trunks to show their children affection, and orangutans even kiss!
However adorable these animals are when showing affection, they are not specifically able to form and convey complex forms of praise to loved ones like humans can. It would be sad if a parent had no way to tell a young child how much they loved their drawing, or if a couple couldn’t express vows on their wedding day. At this point in time, only humans are known to have the ability for expressing love through cognitive language communication (at least as we understand it).
Language and Culture
Throughout the world, linguists who study languages that are quickly disappearing can see the impact on the cultures that they come from. As many native languages are slowly being lost, some people of those cultures feel like they are losing connections with their past as well. Perhaps this is why there is such a push to preserve dying languages.
A success story of a language being saved from virtually dying in recent history is Welsh, the language spoken in the country of Wales. For a long time, it looked like the language would go extinct because people weren’t learning it or speaking it in everyday life. This was a cause for sadness for many people in Wales because it felt like a link to the past was being lost and a part of their very cultural identity was dying. In the 1960s, through a concerted effort to save the language, preserving it was brought into the national consciousness, and the language began to make a comeback. Soon, over half a million people were speaking Welsh. Indeed, singers, poets, government officials, and writers became highly revered for utilizing this Celtic language, and this attitude remains to the present day. However, Wales is once again seeing Welsh on the decline, and efforts are ongoing to preserve it.
Native Hawaiian is another example of a language that was on the brink of being forgotten, but was brought back from the edge of extinction. Again, a concerted effort was made to save it, and speakers of the language were encouraged to write it down so that it would not be lost to the ages. Once it was preserved, people began using it again and teaching it to their children. This was considered another area of the world where a link to a native past has been preserved.
How Does Language Help Us?
Language can give us self-reflection into our very souls and provide a means to form our thoughts in positive ways, opening more pathways to understanding ourselves. Whether it is a way to express our dreams, explore our fears, or set goals for ourselves, language is the key. One popular way many people use language to help themselves is keeping a journal. Journaling is a popular way to get one’s thoughts on the page, where they can better see and deal with daily troubles. Journaling can also be a cathartic way for an individual to deal with anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Language also helps us in one very important aspect in our lives: our careers. The world has entered a global economy, and that means that now, more than ever, language is needed to work with people—across many different cultures—towards a common goal. Becoming a leader in your profession means mastering professional and persuasive language, both in-person, virtually, and in writing. When language is not clear, there can be room for misinterpretation and confusion, especially when dealing with colleagues from different geographic regions or countries other than your own. When using language properly, the correct contexts and connotations of words can be successfully conveyed. This can help lead to profitability, increased production, or career advancement.
How Does Language Help Us to Understand the World Around Us?
As an infant, using language and understanding the world around them go hand in hand. In the early days of birth, a baby’s brain grows an average of 1% each day! New neurons are making connections constantly in the first few years of life, and an infant’s brain seems to be hardwired to learn and speak language. In fact, by 18 months old, an average child has a vocabulary of about 100 words. While those of us with an adult brain obviously do not grow as rapidly or make neurological connections as fast as a child, we carry the hardwired connection between language and understanding the world around us for the rest of our lives.
Strong language skills may help an individual interact with the people and environment around them. When people are more aware of the subtleties of language, they are more focused and interactive. This is one reason why learning a second language is still strongly encouraged in k-12 and higher education—even as Mandarin and English are becoming the two predominantly spoken languages in the world. Being bilingual teaches people that speaking to diverse individuals from a variety of different cultures in a variety of different settings can keep someone grounded in the global human experience.
Language gives us poetry and art. It makes up our favorite books, the ones that make us laugh or cry or feel anything in between. It forms the scripts where our favorite movies and tv shows come from. It helps us understand and describe the beauty of the world around us, introducing us to new ideas, and inspiring us to interact in our communities in ways we might not otherwise think of.
How Does Language Give Us Power?
Language gives us power because it gives us the ability to be understood by the world at large, not just understood by our family or close friends. When you harness the power of language, the more you can contribute to your relationships, your career, and to make the world a better place. If you work for a non-profit, language helps you advocate for your cause and get your needs met by the public. The power of language is the power to persuade, and when you can explain your point of view to others in clear and concise language, they are more likely to see things your way or, at least, compromise on middle ground.
Language Connects People
At Telelanguage, we understand the importance of language and how it connects people across geographic distances and cultures. The importance of clear communication can mean teams of people can achieve goals together that they never thought possible. When it comes to translating, connecting people means more than just changing words from one language to another. Translating means understanding the nuances and connotations of language that must be conveyed when communicating across multiple languages at once. Our Telelanguage interpreters are fully certified and professionally trained to meet all your interpretation needs. In fact, we have over 6,000 interpreters specializing in over 350 languages!
If you need document translation, video remote interpretation, interpretation over the phone, or on-site interpreters, contact Telelanguage. Each of our professionals have been working with institutions of all different industries and sizes since 1991.
Unlock the power of language with Telelanguage and begin bringing people together today!
Director of Interpreter Service
Kaz has been in the language industry since 2005. An interpreter himself, he oversees all operations of the Virtual Interpretation Division (OPI/VRI) for Telelanguage Inc. His responsibilities include Recruitment, Staffing and Coverage Coordination, Quality Assurance, and supervision of over 6,000 contracted/employed interpreters. Additionally, he leads our interpreter certification program. Kaz matches the interpreters’ unique skill-sets to specific organizations and customers. He develops and implements recruitment strategies as well as talent retention plans to ensure access to the most qualified interpreters in over 350 languages.