Language matters in how we interact and emotionally connect with others
Language: it’s how we communicate with each other. This can be through verbal sounds strung together, moving our hands in specific ways, positioning our bodies, or creating symbols on paper or electronically. The origins of language in humans is hotly debated in academic circles.
The how, the when, and the who is constantly changing as we discover more about our distant past. Depending on the definition of language and the factors being studied, the origin of language can date as far back as 3.5 million years ago or as recent as 150,000 years ago. Regardless of how early in our history language developed, it cannot be disputed that it is crucial in shaping our evolution as a species, our current and past societies, and our everyday lives. And in today’s world, where ideas can be spread in the blink of an eye, being aware of how the language we use can shape how we see our world is crucial.
Simple changes to the words we use to describe something or someone can create huge shifts in the emotional reaction people have to what is being said. Take the words “house” and “home”. House conjures up thoughts of a physical structure, how it looks, how many windows it has, how large it is. Home leads someone to think of family, love, comfort, safety. Both words can be referencing the same physical space, but each tells a very different story.
“I wish I had used the word home more than the word house,” says a woman in her 40s while discussing her divorce with a friend. She is talking about the house she owns and which her husband moved into. She felt that her use of the word house instead of our home shaped how both she and her husband understood not only the structure they lived in, but also their life and relationship as a whole. She believes it may have been an important factor in their decision to divorce.
Outside of personal interactions, the language of the media, politicians, and other influential people shapes the way that swaths of the population regard others. Recent examples are the terms menial or unskilled jobs. These words are often used to describe a plethora of jobs, including grocery store cashier, janitor, child care worker, or restaurant dishwasher. Using menial or unskilled to describe these jobs extends to those who perform them. It creates the idea that these jobs aren’t important (when, in fact, many of them are essential for our society to function), that these jobs require no skill or intelligence, and therefore that those who work them don’t deserve a fair wage or respect. As a result, these jobs are often low paid, physically demanding, and sometimes emotionally abusive. As a society, we tend to ignore them or shrug them off.
Language has been the backbone of our society and species for a very long time, and it will be an integral part of our future. It is vitally important that, especially in a time where words—true or not—spread quickly and emotions run high, we pay close attention to the words we use.
Featured Image: The words we use are more important than we think. | Pixabay