The L words: Language and linguistics
Language can be useful, magical and mystical. Linguistics can illuminate how human codes manage to represent and communicate all things to all people. We have words that name people and things: Harry, Sally and gold. And we have conceptual words that express the incomprehensible: infinity, God, omniscience, love, nothingness and being.
The development and use of language is uniquely human. (I’ll believe it’s not when my dog tells me so.) Spoken and written language, symbols, signing, user interfaces, graphic arts—all these help us to integrate our network (see 3D brain image above) with the networks we create—social, political and computational, to name a few.
Making the L words work for you
Here’s a shortlist of things people in the innovation business code and network using some linguistic modality:
|Communications strategy||Securing venture capital|
|Marketing communications||Technical documentation|
|User expectations||User experience|
|Understanding editorial style||Understanding grammar|
|Creativity||Process and application dev.|
|Financial reporting||Internal communications|
All can be illuminated and improved by understanding how we go about conveying and comprehending meanings for things, intentions, causation, time and space, and action or states of being. Everything from learning the basics of our native tongue (most of us had it down by age three) to creating poetry to making an effective pitch—these all use linguistic codes that involve language and gesture (e.g., a user interface). It’s important, then, that we apply this knowledge base to manipulate human codes to improve the effectiveness of communications.
For example, mistakes in assigning names to new tools can cause trouble. Take the negligent ignorance behind the naming of Yahoo! Or consider the issues Amazon wrestles with in communicating an order status or direct marketers face in documenting what constitutes opening an email.
On a maco level, when people talk about an interface that is “intuitive” what they are really addressing are human expectations about coded cues that prompt us to network with an application, just as song and lyric networks the hearer or reader with a unique representation of reality–one that can fuse mind, body, emotion, spirit and experience.
The infinite from the finite
It might take you ten seconds to realize that this rule-based use of a finite set of semantic indicators makes this sentence unique. Search recorded and remembered history and you will not find its exact match. Every day in every corner of the world, people are saying things that have never before and will never again be said. Paradoxically, the meanings of their words will rarely be unique.
This problem perplexes us daily, challenging us to say something worth saying. To form a real line of communication—to establish a unique and meaningful connection with your audience, one or many—requires that you take on the ever-present challenge to make it new, or make discretion the better part of valor and keep your mouth shut.