The most primitive communication is sound. A snake rattles to warn people and animals away. A chimp barks to let his community know he has found food. A child cries for comfort.
Humans also ascribe meaning to sounds. The first words were probably related to survival – food, shelter, danger. Language developed over time as a necessity to convey complex thoughts. For example, imagine you see your next-door neighbor pull into her driveway, leap out of her car, and run toward her house. She catches sight of you and shrieks before disappearing into her house. You may understand she is trying to warn you of danger, but without a common language, you would have no idea if she is telling you she is being pursued by an escaped convict or simply letting you know the new Chinese restaurant downtown is really bad. Think about how differently you would respond if your neighbor called out, “There’s a big storm heading this way! You’ve got to take cover now!”
Language sets people and events in motion. Spoken and written words have provoked wars, banished despair, and inspired people to swim across the English Channel. Army commanders use words to cause hundreds of soldiers to throw themselves in harm’s way. People donate money to charities after hearing vivid tales of suffering. The headline splashed across the front page of the New York Times incites dozens of angry letters and phone calls.
For an unfortunate few, language is no more than a means to an end. Words are used only to communicate necessary messages. Most of us can communicate effectively, if not optimally. We speak well when we are comfortable. We write for clarity rather than impact. However, there are gifted communicators who have elevated words to an art form. They speak and write masterfully, combining substance with style effortlessly to evoke the precise response they seek in others.
My goal is to help anyone who reads this blog expand their awareness of language and improve their ability to speak and write. It’s also a way I can continue to learn about topics that interest me while sharing my love of language with others. I plan to cover different aspects of written, verbal, and non-verbal communication, share tips to improve personal and professional communication, and profile various speakers and writers.