TED Does Linguistics 2: Mark Pagel

Our second TED talk on language will interest advertisers. In it, Mark Pagel suggests that human language is a unique tool to our species, which developed to give us the ability to manipulate each other.

But there is a problem with this talk. It suggests humans are the only animals with language and social learning. This isn’t true at all: If it was, it would be impossible for you to teach your Labrador to sit on command.

Different whale pods actually have different languages, and cannot communicate with each other. It must be quite embarrassing for them. Like an Englishman trying to ask directions in Mallorca by speaking loudly and slowly in English.

Perhaps we can learn something here from Wittgenstein, by far Verbal Identity’s favourite Austrian philosopher. “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.”

All languages are constantly adapting webs of connections and reference points. They depend heavily on the environments and experiences of the speaker. Since we cannot fully immerse ourselves in the world of the talking lion, we would find it very difficult to understand his reference points.

This applies to different human languages too, where idioms are different and cultural references absent or contorted. It can even apply to different audiences speaking the same language.

If you don’t believe it, go and read the code documentation for Microsoft Office.

We’ve discussed this before when talking about shaping your story with the right brand narrative. This is why it’s important to understand the language of your audience, and where Verbal Identity comes in. If your brand is a lion, we can make sure your consumers understand you.

Once you’ve recovered from your exposure to Microsoft’s code documentation and are ready to talk to us about designing your brand’s communications to speak in a language your audience understands, email us here.