After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
Understand the power of language to define our world and our relationship
to the world
Choose language that positively impacts the ability to inform and persuade
Choose language to create a clear and vivid message
Use language that is ethical and accurate
Use language to enhance his or her speaker credibility Chapter Outline
Language is one of the most influential and powerful aspects of our daily lives and yet very few people pay attention to it in their interpersonal and public communication. The power of language cannot be overemphasized— language constructs, reflects, and maintains our social realities, or what we believe to be “true” with regard to the world around us. What we “know is true” about a person, place, thing, idea, or any other aspect of our daily lives very much depends on what experiences we have had (or not), what information we have (or have not) come across, and what words people have used (or not used) when communicating about our world.
Language can also have an impact on how we feel about this reality. How we define words and how we feel about those words is highly subjective. In fact, cognitive psychologist Lera Boroditsky showed a key to a group of Spanish- speakers and to a group of German- speakers. The researchers then asked the participants to describe the key they had been shown. Because the Spanish word for “key” is gendered as feminine, Spanish speakers defined the key using words such as lovely, tiny, and magic. The German word for “key” is gendered masculine, however, and German speakers defined the key using adjectives like hard, jagged, and awkward (2003). This study suggests that the words we use to define something can have an impact on how we perceive what those words represent.
Because language is such a powerful, yet unexamined, part of our lives, this chapter focuses on how language functions and how competent speakers harness the power of language.