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LanguageThe power of language to shift perception

Whether you believe humans came from ape, idyllic garden or spaceship, it’s generally accepted that language evolved (or existed) to facilitate cooperation.

The common scientific theory is that early man-beasts expanded their primate communication systems to work together better. But for those who believe in more spiritual origins, the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel describes how God scattered people with different languages to prevent them working together. Same same.

Language allows us to share knowledge, ideas and stories within our group. Just as importantly, though, it plays a role in protecting that knowledge from outsiders. Oh yes, no matter how cosmopolitan our outlook, our tribal instincts still run deep.

In this way, language has always identified us as belonging to a particular culture, to the exclusion of everyone else. Even when we speak the same language, our accents and dialects reveal our affiliation to various subcultures: nationality, religion, social class, club, gang, team, pastime, political persuasion, trade, profession, employer. It’s not uncommon for us to change dialects depending on the cultural setting.

Let’s pause a moment here, and look at the word ‘culture’. It’s a term that’s banged on about plenty in the business world, a vague-ish word used to describe a fuzzy set of shared attitudes, beliefs, ...

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