LAST WEEK, we explored the Functions of Non-Verbal Communication. This week, we will begin our look at Verbal Communication and the Characteristics of Language.
Verbal Communication, in its broadest sense, is the way we use words (via speech and writing) to communicate our ideas, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, etcetera. These words are an essential part of what humans call language. Did you know that there is a difference between language and a language?
LANGUAGE VS A LANGUAGE
According to McDermott 2008, ‘Language is an inborn potential to use a linguistic system of signs and sounds (called a code) for the purpose of communication that is shared by all other human beings. A language refers to a specific use of a particular code within a language community (for example, Spanish, French, English, or Creole) at a given time place’. CAPE Communication Studies p.16. What then are the characteristics of this thing we call language?
CHARACTERISTICS OF LANGUAGE 1. LANGUAGE IS HUMAN
Language is a uniquely human activity, in that only humans use language to communicate. This enables humans to communicate at and above all other species. Sure, animals communicate with each other. However, they lack the sophistication and complexity that are involved in human communication. They cannot reflect and share with each other about the reflection, they cannot describe to their friends about the rough day they had trying to escape the hunter, nor can they meet in the alley and compare notes about how their owners treat them!
2. LANGUAGE IS VERBAL
The word verb is derived from the Latin word verbum, which means word. This tells us that language is essentially made up of words. These words can be either written or spoken.
3. LANGUAGE IS SYMBOLIC
A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else. Written or spoken words simply represent the things they represent. So, for example, the word ‘pen’ represents an instrument which uses ink for writing and drawing. P-e-n (the word) is not a pen. It is the code for the thing we use for writing, using ink.
Words can, therefore, either denote or connote meaning. The denotative meaning of words is the literal (dictionary) meaning of words. The connotative meaning refers to specific associations or reactions to words. Consider the denotative and connotative meaning of the word man this sentence: He is a man.
Denotative: He is an adult human male. Connotative: He is strong and courageous (stereotypical characteristics of men)
4. LANGUAGE IS MATURATIONAL
As persons mature and grow older, their word bank increases, as does their ability to manipulate words. As well, as time passes, words become ‘outdated’ or archaic and are seldom used (if at all).
5. LANGUAGE IS NON-INSTINCTIVE
Animal communication can be described as instinctive. They learn calls and signs instinctively and do not have to be taught, the way humans do. Humans are, however, born with the natural ability to learn a language, any language to which we have sufficient exposure. So if you were born in a Spanish-speaking or French-speaking country, your proficiency in that language would perhaps be equal to your proficiency in your use of English! Some linguists believe that humans are born with a built-in language acquisition device. Linguist Noam Chomsky believed that there was a hypothetical tool in the brain enabling children to learn and use language.
6. LANGUAGE IS DYNAMIC
Language is ever-changing. It is not static. As it evolves, new words are added, some words become archaic and some words even adopt new meanings and are used in new ways! Consider the meanings of the words chill, surf, mouse, Babylon, and bill.