Language in Time and Space

I just found out that Audible has Great Courses from The Teaching Company. I love those! I used to get them from the library on Cassette and CD

That’s what Libraries had back when. Cassettes, and CDs.

Something about listening to a lecturer who is not going to give me a test or homework is so pleasant.

YES, I want to know all that obscure knowledge. I will remember it, but I don’t’ want to HAVE to write a bibliography in Chicago or MLA style.

The course I just bought and finished is called The History of Language.

John McWhorter teaches it. I have a new teacher crush.

Towards the end of the lecture series, he calls the people who love this topic language heads.

Yes, I am a language head. I first encountered linguistics in my senior year at San Jose State University. It was so fascinating, I considered if I might pursue it. I went to the teacher

“What do people do with linguistics degrees?”

“Oh! They are so useful! If you have a linguistics degree and know a computer language, you can write your own ticket.”

Professors can say dumb things sometimes. I knew enough to know that if you know a computer language, you can write you own tickets. College degrees are entirely optional.

But here comes Professor McWhorter waltzing through my earphones.

He is the first one who made me realize how very different spoken word is from written word.

Written word is something I love so dearly. It probably colors my speech quite a bit, as I try to say things with my mouth as I would if I were writing on the page.

Even so, spoken word relies so much on context and intonation.

If you can point to something, a lot of grammar becomes redundant. One thing I have heard professionally, only 60% of the meaning of speech are the words spoken.

Emotions and context are impossible to separate from spoken word.

I remember when I was learning Russian, and I knew almost nothing. If I pointed to something I wanted, and handed them a notebook, they would write down how much it cost, and I could start to learn how to buy things. “How much is it?” “Skolka Stoeet?” came later. And the numbers came after that too.

So I could get by with not much more than a pointed finger and a raised eyebrow.

Same place same time, I could communicate.

Written words make it possible for different place different time communication.

And because of that naked context, the written word have to have much more careful conveyance of meaning, with specific grammar and word choice.

Good writing also is supposed to paint a picture of senses and emotion. Metaphor, colors, descriptions of sights and sounds in a way that same time same place communication does not need.

I love to write and I try my best to make my written words live.

But I have a life outside of this virtual page. My career has been spent on telecommunications. Etymologically, that means far communications.

Telecommunications is same time, but not same place. It’s also technologically compressed and lacks the full sound range that my voice next to your ear would carry.

I’ve often advised people on how to use telecom technologies to build relationships. Yes, start by meeting people face to face. But to continue the relationship, try to meet using video communication regularly. This is even more important in cross-cultural teams.

But there is another interesting recent language communications phenomenon.

Same time, different place in WRITING. This has to do with social media comments and texting. Or even rapid emails back and forth.

We all know that the occasional emoji can add to the tone and allow for better communication.

How is this changing our language?

As McWhorter likes to say, if human history were a day, written language appeared at 11 PM

So this moment of same time, different place written communication has been less than a second.

I would love to find out how it develops.