Language comes naturally to most people. While animals can also communicate in their own way through sounds, actions, or chemical markings, language is unique to humans. With an estimated 7000 languages in the world, language is present all over the world wherever there are humans. Many of us speak our native language without much thought. But the truth is, language has immense importance to the social fabric of humankind. This article will delve into how language is used in society to fulfill different purposes:
Language helps us communicate
The most apparent function of language is communication. Language arose out of a need for humans to communicate and socialise. As humans are inherently social beings, this need for communication will never die out. Language helps us to communicate with people who can speak the same language, through conventionalised vocal sounds and structures that allow us to understand each other.
Language is also so much more than simply passing on a message. Bees, too, can communicate with each other, signalling the direction of food sources with specific dances. However, human language allows us to do so much more. We can use language to share complex thoughts, opinions, and ideas, which enables human-to-human connections to form.
Language helps us learn
Have you ever tried to think without using language? While that can be possible for some visual imagination, it will be hard to think of complex processes without putting it into words. That is why language is essential to help us learn and gain knowledge. With language, we are able to understand the lectures in school, what we read in books, and what we hear on the news. Without language, there would be so much information that would be impossible for our brains to grasp, and even more impossible to transmit these pieces of knowledge from one person to another.
Language reflects culture
Languages of different nations and ethnicities differ so vastly, making them difficult for non-natives to learn. One might wonder why languages differ so greatly. This is because different languages develop independently in the community they are spoken in, and over time, they start to reflect the culture of the people. For example, Chinese people value familial ties and social order much more so than Americans who value egalitarianism. This is reflected by how the Chinese language has specific kinship terms for paternal uncles, maternal uncles, and even the age of the uncle in relation to your own parent. Whereas in English, uncles are uncles regardless of whether they are your mother’s older or younger brother, or your dad’s brother, for that matter.
Language is identity
Just as how growing up in a certain culture becomes a part of your identity, the language you speak also forms a part of your self. You may not think much of it, but you truly feel it when you go to a foreign land where your native tongue is not spoken. When you hear your own language being spoken by another traveller or immigrant, that sense of familiarity and comfort is undeniable. Even if you don’t strongly identify with the culture tied to the language, the language itself is the canvas of your mind – the means by which you form your thoughts and feelings. Speaking in your own language always makes you feel the most comfortable, at home, and most true to yourself. The interesting thing is, some multilinguals feel different identities when they speak in different languages, further proving how language can play a part in forming our identities.
Language is a commodity
Many people learn a new language for purposes of furthering their academic or career pursuits. By saying that language is a commodity, it reflects that language has become a ‘sellable’ trait. People who know more languages can market themselves as people with extra skills, and these can land them exclusive jobs that monolinguals cannot do. Certain languages are also more attractive or useful than others, if one were to compare them in terms of ‘market value’. For example, a Mandarin Chinese speaker will be highly sought after as they can go to China to tap into their vast market. However, learning a lesser-known language may not be as useful in terms of the practicality of the language.
Language is a fascinating phenomenon in society. To gain a further appreciation of how language plays a huge role in the way we socialise and live our lives, it is always good to learn different languages and appreciate the uniqueness of each one. Why not get started on your language exploration with some Japanese, Korean, or Chinese classes in Singapore?