01626: Language Is Most Effective With Shared Context

At its most basic, language is functional in nature. Language came about so we could have an effective way of communicating after all. Thus we have words that have agreed upon meanings that other people can understand once they hear the word. But the effectiveness of words and thus language depends on shared context of understanding between you and the audience - whether a listener in a conversation, a reader of your writing or perhaps a member of the audience for your movie or TV show.

Language is imprecise at best, but still does a great job of capturing the essence of meaning for a concept. With the power of letters coming together to form words and words building sentences, we are able to make our thoughts and feelings known to others - or at least others who understand the words that come out of mouths.

Language has developed in many different ways over the passage of time and more and more terms are developed to capture the concepts of different things that are relevant to us. Thus the Filipino languages have so many different terms of rice - even the most basic difference between bigas and kanin to refer to rice being uncooked and cooked. English doesn't capture that since the original English-speakers were not as heavily into rice as we are. This is but one example between two languages - there are so many out there that cross regional and cultural lines.

But it does not solely matter how many words you know in terms of your ability to communicate. Each language has amazingly precise terms of the little things in our lives but these lose meaning when the audience for our message is not familiar with the term. And while you can argue that it's the listener's fault for having such a poor vocabulary that your message was not successfully delivered, ultimately communication is a transaction - a shared experience between those involved in the conversation. Thus if you want to be understood, you need terms that both of you understand.

For your message to reach the most people, you need to speak in more common terms. This is precisely why I do my best to keep the vocabulary level of my writing at a decent range without dabbling too deep in the pool of terms that are best left to thesauruses. I want more people to hear, read and eventually understand what I have to say in order for them to get my message, consider it and form an opinion about it - or better yet a response. I want to communicate to as many people as possible.

That's my goal when I write or when I speak in public. What's yours?