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The evolution of language

Updated: Feb 16

Probably the most momentous invention the human race has ever made is something we all take for granted. Without it, we would still be walking the plains of Africa; we would be unable to know the feelings and thoughts of others and you would be unable to read this, just as I would be unable to write it.

Language, in all its various forms, is a tool that has enabled the curious, hairless apes that first stood upright four million years ago to spread out across the world, explore every last corner of it, write about those discoveries, develop cultures, work together and give others the chance to see life through a different set of eyes.

Language both unites and divides us; we feel an affinity with those who speak our language and hold in suspicion those who don’t. For a tool that is supposed to increase understanding, it is flawed because so many different interpretations of its components are possible. “I didn’t mean that!” is a common cry, even amongst speakers of the same language.

Those who understood how to use language found that it could be employed to influence the behaviour of others; the power of words can plant ideas into people’s minds and the skilled use of words can often transform not just a person but a society and, ultimately, the world.

Politics and religions both depend on words to inspire and to move people; they can create a tidal wave that sweeps all before it. Everything starts with words.

When, about nine thousand years ago, spoken language started to be written down, words acquired an independent existence; ideas could survive the death of their progenitors and a person did not have to hear what was said in order to receive and understand the words. The ability to read and write became a passport to a world of knowledge that could be passed on from generation to generation. With that knowledge came power and understanding. Knowing something that somebody else did not gave the holder of that knowledge an advantage and in primitive societies, that advantage was all important.

So valuable was that knowledge that control of it could be crucial when preserving power and privilege. Elites understood this and often sought to limit literacy amongst those they ruled. A literate population is far less tractable and more difficult to control. Even today, education is a liberating tool because it teaches people how to understand, assess and evaluate what they are being told by those in power. Once everyone can read and understand, they are able to seize control of information and put it to work for them, democratising it and placing that power back where it belongs – with the people.

At rradar, we are passionate about seizing the power that education bestows and gifting it to those with whom we work as an enabling tool that can be used to transform their lives and businesses. Language liberates – we are ready to show you just how much.

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