Have you stopped to reflect on the phenomenon of language?
Every species on earth has one. If you’ve ever been woken before dawn by a yowling cat, a yodelling rooster or a monotonous dog, you’ll agree that some languages lack tone, cadence and variety.
Whales for instance, have a limited vocal scale but enormous sonic range—hundreds of kilometres at speeds of up to an estimated 1.6km a second underwater.
Emotion and delight
On the human scale, an opera aria, your favourite rock, rap or pop song, or even the lyrics of your sports team’s anthem can transport you to ecstasies of emotion and delight.
According to the authoritative Summer Institute of Languages, we speak 7,105 languages across the globe.
The ranking site, ListVerse, says Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language, with more than one billion users.
While double that of second placed English with 508 million speakers, our British mother tongue has official language status in nearly twice as many countries as any other lingo.
1.75 billion speak ‘useful English’
And the influential Harvard Business Review says 1.75 billion people around the world ‘speak English at a useful level.’
It’s also the lingua franca of global business and of key economic and civil activities such as aviation, finance and international law.
As a native English speaker, I count myself lucky to have been born into a linguistic culture that gives me a language advantage almost everywhere on Earth.
Why does English—a notoriously irregular and difficult to learn language for non-English speakers—enjoy such a substantial and ever-widening lead in the language stakes?
For a start, it cares little about theft as a means of enriching its already bulging grab bag of words and phrases.
‘As pure as a cribhouse whore’
In 1990, Canadian epigrammist, James D Nicoll, wrote seductively: ‘The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.’
English has other distinctions.
Check these two sentences:
- A weird landscape dissolved into the horizon.
- She can go to the dance and the after party on Friday, as long as she’s done her homework.
Now read them aloud at your normal pace.
Sentence one has nearly 50 percent fewer syllables (12) than sentence two (23).
What’s going on here?
But when I read them out, the second sentence was substantially shorter than the first. What’s going on here?
English is a stressed language, where most others are syllabic. English lets you emphasise the important bits, and skip quickly over the rest. It gives your language music and makes it memorable.
Knowing this stuff is one thing. Applying it effectively is another, especially in business.
If you want your marketing communications to sing a Siren song to your customers and prospects, find someone who knows how to compose.
Contact me here to find out how.