When your dog wags her tail, she is communicating with you. She is happy. When a baby cries because she is hungry, she is also communicating without words. When your husband tells you he loved dinner, but leaves most of it on his plate, again, this is another form of communication. And speaking and writing are communication, but of a different order.
On this little planet, language is unique to the human race. Other animals can communicate, but only domestic animals (and some primates studied by scientists) understand actual words. And an English-speaking dog won’t understand commands in other languages, unless she is taught commands in other languages. That is because speech – and writing – are symbolic communication and not instinctive (like crying or smiling). Basically, all English speakers have agreed that the word ‘dog’ represents a member of the canine family. There is no reason why we’ve chosen the word ‘dog’ that actually links itself to the reality of a dog. In other languages, a dog is a perro, chien, hund, madra, or one of a thousand other words. None of them are any more correct than the English word, because all of them are just an arbitrary collection of sounds chosen by social convention.
Human beings do have instinctive forms of communication, in gesture, body language and facial expressions. But none of these are as efficient as language, because only a language can express higher order concepts like mercy or justice. And only human beings have the basic need to express themselves with a language. First language acquisition happens automatically with children; though children can acquire more than one ‘First’ language if they live in a bilingual or multilingual household.
Without speech, we could have no written language. Unlike spoken language, every child needs to be ‘taught’ how to read and write (though some children acquire reading and writing skills quite easily and rapidly). Most people think the written word is the same as the spoken word, but they are very different. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog articles, the written word has to try and compete with all the nonverbal communication that takes place when people are speaking face-to-face.
As a writer and story teller, I love both the spoken and the written word.