The Power of Language
Humans are the only creatures that can use proper language. Other creatures do communicate. Ants lay scent trails for their nest-mates to follow. Bees follow a complex dance ritual to communicate new sources of food. Birds and animals have sets of sounds and odors to alert others. But none of them (as far as we know) have a full-fledged language. True language can convey small differences in meaning as well as complicated ideas such as quantum theory.
Language is one of the foundations of civilization. It enables us to tell each other things we’ve learnt. Once we had writing, people were able to build on the achievements of the past, recorded in writing. Our ability to develop and use language made humans the dominant species on earth.
Language enables us to convey emotion, ideas, our needs, our desires, and our hopes for the future. It empowers us to influence the thinking and behavior of other people.
Human beings have, at birth, the ability to learn languages. Children learn languages without the need for any teaching. They learn the language of their parents, or other languages people speak around them as they grow up. In places where many languages are spoken, there are often people who speak two, three, or even four languages – and they never had to learn them!
The ability to learn languages seems to decrease with age. Adults find it far more difficult to learn a new language, and often have to be taught if they need to do so. But we never quite lose the ability. Determined effort to learn a new language is never a failure.
How to learn a new language? The best way appears to be to build a vocabulary first. A few hundred words to put across the most basic concepts such as numbers, body parts, common objects and so on would be a great start. You’ll keep adding to this as you go. All you need then is a rough idea of how the language works – the basic rules of the grammar. After that, jump into the deep end of the pool. “Immersion” is what language learning experts call it, and there’s probably no better way to learn it. Nowadays there is software that allows you to do this – RosettaStone is one that comes to mind. Duolingo, a free app available for iOS, Android, and Windows is another option. It allows you to make use of spare snippets of time to learn a second language.
Language is the most powerful tool we have if we want to get others to see things our way. Experts in the use of language can make people buy into new ideas and beliefs.
You may think of the ability to persuade people as an art or a talent. You either have it or you don’t. But this is not really true. The art of persuading people has been made into a system, right from ancient times.
From the ancient Greeks and Romans comes the science of Rhetoric. Rhetoric is an organized way of thinking about how to persuade. There are five laws of rhetoric, according to the ancients. They are: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. There’s a lot to say about each of them. There are plenty of books and courses if this interests you deeply.
Here is a free online course on rhetoric:
There are many others. Just google “rhetoric courses online”.
Rhetoric is not mere theory. There are great practitioners of the art even today – President Obama is one.
There are other techniques of persuasion as well. Dr. Milton Erickson, the famous psychologist, developed a technique of language patterns. This enabled him to help people do things that seemed impossible for them. These patterns include the embedded command, the double bind, and many others. His main insight was that a person doesn’t have to be hypnotized to accept a suggestion. Language patterns bypass the conscious mind and make suggestions directly to the subconscious. Here they are accepted easily.
With Power, Responsibility
These are very potent methods. They can sway the hearts and minds not just of individuals, but entire nations. In the hands of a maniac, the power of language can be used to drive mobs and crowds to do unthinkable things.
These are powerful abilities, and can create great good for humanity. But they are also dangerous powers, and must be used with a sense of ethics, and with caution.