Language is uniquely used by humankind. Some sea creatures are known to send/receive communications via sonar, bats use radar, lions roar, birds sing, bees buzz. Yes, they make sounds and send signals, but we use words and have a unique ability to craft very specific messages.
Here are some additional facts that I uncovered for a talk I delivered to a group of professionals at the end of 2013. They come from various sources – do your own research to verify and learn more statistics yourself:
- There are between 6000 and 7000 languages in the world, spoken by 7 billion people (additionally these languages have as many as 7,000 different dialects)
- On the continent of Africa there are more than 1000 different languages spoken
- In New York City there are 800 different languages spoken
- More than half of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual
- Of all the languages in the world, English has the largest vocabulary
- There are approximately 500,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary with nearly 1,000 new entries each year
- Another ½ million scientific/technical terms have not yet been catalogued in the dictionary
- We speak approximately 4800 words per day
Speech and debate competitors love language. They know that words are the vehicle by which they are able to inform, persuade, and inspire. Public speakers wield words and are diligent about crafting their messages.
But here’s what I know.
As much as we are designed to communicate, the entire process is quite delicate. We say things we shouldn’t and often neglect to say what we should or could. So, here’s a proposal, especially for those of you at national competitions where you are observing some of the best young speakers in the country.
If you think a good thought in your mind,… say it with your mouth.
Before the tournament wraps, verbally acknowledge the good thoughts you have been rolling around in your mind. Have you been impressed by another competitor’s outside-of-the-room performance, a coach’s unsolicited kindness, or a parent’s selfless sacrifice? It is easy to miss these opportunities, but a little bit of praise, the tiniest offering of gratitude, promotes the best use of language. Good words water the soul.
As a tournament comes to an end, there is inevitably a measure of disappointment for some. Let’s all reach down deep and change-up our game plans. Let your final moments at the competition be filled with uttering the good thoughts you’ve been thinking in your mind. Go say them with your mouth.