• George Wang

Meaning (Language as a tool for communication)

Communication, at its core, is about the expression and understanding of meaning. Since we are unable to read minds, language acts as our best tool for communicating and articulating our thoughts. From my experiences, I have come to realize, appreciate, and focus on the importance of accurately expressing what I mean.

One of the first things that I started to notice regularly in various aspects of life is the prevalence of misunderstandings. People often interpreted the same phrase differently, whether that is due to the tone, facial expression, regional connotations, accents, past experiences, or a myriad of other factors. In my personal life, I have repeatedly noticed that I understood a person's message clearly, whether they communicated clearly or not, but another person in the conversation misunderstood. Sometimes, I witnessed people arguing when they were actually making the same point and simply misinterpreted each other. Other times, I experienced people failing to articulate their message, causing unnecessary hiccups in their plans. The willingness and ability to accurately express ourselves could both prevent and help to solve so many issues in our lives, potentially even proliferating to ameliorate larger problems.

As someone who knows multiple languages to varying levels, I often notice that I understand the meaning but either I cannot translate it or it takes time for me to find a suitable translation. Moreover, when I switch back and forth from speaking and especially thinking in different languages, I notice moments where I just think in “meaning” as opposed to thinking in any language. This is really the catalyst for me to start approaching communication with such a heavy focus on the meaning.

Having realized this, I began to notice that people, including myself, would forget a word at times but everyone involved in the conversation would know the meaning nonetheless. Related to this phenomenon, I remembered all the times that I have used the context of a sentence to develop an educated guess at the meaning of a word, especially when I am learning a foreign language.

Lastly, I think about how babies and animals try to communicate, while limited by their lack of linguistic capabilities. Clearly, with or without language, our brains think in "meaning" at the core.

Undoubtedly, the manner in which we use language is incredibly important; every aspect of it matters if we care about accurately expressing ourselves, from phrasing, to tone, to dynamics, to diction, to energy, and to the overall context. We would genuinely benefit from appreciating and maximizing the use of language as tool for communicating and articulating our thoughts.

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