Languages are of different kinds: spoken language, written language, body language, code language, sign language, Braille or language of the visually challenged and the more recent ones being machine language and computer language. Many languages have a long history. The Greek, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Indians are among those whose languages ‘are centuries old. The number of languages used in verbal communication is extremely large. It is said that there are as many as 3,500 identified languages throughout the world. Although this is true of the spoken languages, the number of written languages is much lower, with one estimate placing it at not more than 500.
Further, within a language, there are sub-languages or dialects. A dialect is a form of speech peculiar to a district, class or group of people. It is a subordinate variety of language with a distinguishable vocabulary, pronunciation or idioms. Languages are also known for their features. There is a mother tongue; there is a regional language, an official language, a national language and a global language. Some languages are perceived to be easy. Some others are difficult to learn.
Greek and Sanskrit are considered to be languages of the gods. French is described as a romantic language. Sometimes there is one script common to several languages. There are languages that are alive and growing and there are those that are becoming extinct. Greek and Latin, which were so popular several centuries ago, are in limited use today. Languages that absorb and adopt new words continue to grow. Greek and Latin are described as dead languages because they failed to absorb new words and lost their appeal.
In contrast, the English language has immense appeal because it regularly takes in new words that are popularly used in other languages. Allah, bazaar, guru, bungalow, divan,durbar are some of the Hindi/Urdu words that have made their way into English dictionaries. Most languages are region specific. The vocabulary and structure of a language are often dependent on history and environmental factors. There are more or less words depending upon what the environment offers. A language spoken in a desert will have more words that describe camels and deserts.
A heavy snowfall region will have many words that describe the snow. Since languages are often region specific, link languages have evolved to facilitate inter-regional and cross-cultural communication. Apart from the spoken language, there are designated official languages to facilitate the flow of communication in government and administration. Many countries have only one official language. Countries like India, Canada and Switzerland have more than one.
When a language is not a native language but one adopted from outside, it acquires mixed characteristics. The widely used English language has variations from country to country. The Indian way of speaking becomes Indian English and the American way of speaking becomes American English. They stand apart from the original English which is also referred to as the Queen’s English and is associated with England. Those who want to communicate effectively and reach out to other sections of people will have to familiarize themselves with the expressions peculiar to those types of languages. There are also other kinds of differences within a language, like the formal and the informal, language of the rich and the poor, the old and the young. Each profession or subject will have a language with its own idioms, phrases, expressions and nuances.
An expression or a particular word in one language may mean something very different in another language.
Idioms, Phrases and Slang:
Words or phrases in common use that are generally considered in some or all aspects to be outside of Standard English are called slang. Slang consists of words and phrases that are either entirely peculiar to or used in some special context by some class or profession. Slang may also refer to abusive language. Spoken languages are often highly accommodative.
Sometimes, people who have not mastered a particular language still attempt to communicate through a mixed language. This language is referred to as pidgin. Pidgin is a simplified form of a language, especially English, Portuguese or Dutch, where a limited number of words are used together with words from a local language. In other words, it is used for communication between speakers of different languages. There can be Pidgin English, pidgin Portuguese and pidgin Hindi.
The words and forms used here are simple and spoken by a person who does not speak the language well, or when the person is talking to someone who does not know the language, e.g. a Kannadiga, a Tamilian and a Bengali communicating with each other in pidgin Hindi. The most important component of a language is vocabulary or word power. Since the expressions take place through words, vocabulary refers to all the words that a person knows or uses.
Most of the popular languages possess a well-developed vocabulary. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, for example, gives around 80,000 references covering British English as well as American English. It also lists out a core vocabulary of 3,000 English words. Active vocabulary covers words that a person not only understands but also uses. Passive vocabulary, on the other hand, relates to the words which a person understands. To make an effective use of words while speaking and writing, the power to bring the right words into play assumes particular relevance. .
The world of words is wonderful and fascinating. Old and new, big and small, easy and difficult, every language has an abundant range of words. As the saying goes, it pays to enrich one’s vocabulary or word power. Reading enables a person to increase word power. Such reading should be a conscious effort, with the intent to pick up new words, nuances or shades of meaning and the context in which it is used. Periodical or ongoing efforts to enrich vocabulary facilitate the communicator in developing his own distinctive and appealing style of writing and speaking. Any person, who builds up an abundant source of active vocabulary will not be at a loss for words and, will therefore, is a forceful and impressive speaker.
Great speakers master the skill of using the right words at the right time. Equally important, they refrain from using words that may cause hurt or have a scope for misunderstanding.