The point of language

A message in a bottle, washed up on a beach.
Photo by Jayne Harris on Unsplash

I try to help Wanda keep some perspective about language arts. The point of it all is communication: sharing an idea with an audience.

If the idea has gotten from the speaker/writer's brain to the intended audience's brain—intact, with as much nuance and understanding as is needed—then we have success! Hooray!

The message may arrive with flawed spelling, pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary. What does that matter, as long as it was successful?

It's not that we don't care about those aspects of language. They're all useful tools to reduce mistakes in that communication. Even small slips can change meaning, shift nuance, or open up unintended interpretations.

If we're on the receiving end of a communication, I try to encourage Wanda to think carefully before correcting. Our goal as a good listener is to hear the intended message. If we think a message may have gotten goobered on its way to our ears, asking for clarity is a great thing to do. However, correcting someone's mistakes, when we feel confident we understood their meaning, is at best a distraction from the message, and at worst, a rather jerky move.

When we're on the sending end, that's where we want to use all the tools we've got to ensure our idea gets across. Language is a beautiful, complicated toy box, and we'll be spending years (a lifetime!) refining our use to increase the chances we're heard and understood.

There are many differing approaches to thinking about grammar. Many people, probably most people, successfully deploy English syntax without explicitly learning all the names for various parts of speech or verb tenses. Learning all the nitty-gritty details can decrease mistakes and can be fun, but it doesn't take much depth before you're into trivia territory.

Further, language is a beautifully flexible, malleable beast. Language is not rigid, it is not static. Its rules and components shift across time and territories. Language cares only about getting a message across between one speaker and one audience at a time. It isn't designed by rules, rather it evolves to meet needs.

This means there are many, many people we encounter whose syntax is different from what we're used to, and usually their ideas are still able to transmit just fine.

Another principle we try to have front of mind here is "curiosity before criticism." Keeping the point of language—sharing ideas—in perspective is in alignment with that principle. When we set aside criticism and lead with curiosity, we're better able to adapt and respond to that beautifully fluid nature of language.

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