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  • Yashorit Bagchi

Communication and Languages

What is communication and how can we define it? The root of the word ‘communication’ comes from a Latin word ‘communicare’ which means to share, or to make common. We can define communication as the process of understanding and sharing meaningful things with one another.

It is a basic behaviour which is found across all animals. Animals communicate using signals. It can include visual and auditory processes, and chemical methods involving pheromones (a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species). Communication behaviours can help animals find mates, establish dominance, defend territory, coordinate group behaviour, and care for young.

We, humans, think of communication as a system that differentiates us from other animals although both systems have similarities. The communication between other animals is rudimentary using a system of basic sounds and signals. Ours is much more sophisticated and linguistic. We can differentiate communication in animals from humans by saying that humans can talk about remote, abstract or imaginary things that are not happening in their immediate environments. Animal communication is context driven, they react to stimuli in their environment.

Humans communicate with incredible detail in languages. We are also more detailed visual communicators but what is truly unique is our linguistic ability. We can define a language as a body of words and the systems for their common use by voice in the distinctively human manner, using sounds, linguistic signs or symbols which are considered abstract.

Languages have not developed overnight but over millennia. From sounds to words, words to sentences, sentences to paragraphs and so on. Languages are not just what we speak but also what we write. Written texts started developing thousands of years ago. Look at how we have progressed from trying to communicate amongst ourselves to commanding artificial intelligence driven machines!

The scientific study of languages is called linguistics. It involves analysing the many different aspects that make up human language. Linguistics looks at form, structure and context and also the interplay between sound and meaning, and how language varies between people and situations. The field of linguistics is extremely diverse, intersecting with many other areas of study. Linguistics is more than a science. It is a story of how we have evolved from primitive cave paintings to text messages.

Cave paintings are often considered the oldests form of visual communication by humans

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