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A brief history of communication: hieroglyphics to emojis
A brief history of communication: hieroglyphics to emojis

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1 Language and everyday technologies

Language is an integral part of our lives. We listen to it in conversation, on the radio, on the TV and on our mobiles. We read it in emails, newspapers, study materials and scribbled notes. We use it to greet our friends, order a coffee, express how we feel or ask for information. In fact, it is hard to imagine how we could navigate our way through life without it. Language is such a common and pervasive feature of our everyday existence that we rarely think about what it is and how we use it.

In modern society, a huge amount of the language we use is mediated by technology of some sort. We don’t rely on language alone, but on communications technologies, which transport and carry the language we use. These technologies can take a vast number of different forms, and the nature of these different technologies have an influence on how it is we use language.

Activity 1 Looking at different technologies

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Have a think about all the different technologies you’ve used over the past 24 hours to communicate with people. Make a list, and try to be as detailed as possible in what you include. Once you’ve done this, look back over the list and think about what these various technologies made possible about your communication, and how it would have differed without access to them. You can collate your notes in the box below.

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Much of the technology we use to communicate today is digital: email, smartphones, video chat, text messaging and so on. Most of these tools are now an intrinsic part of both our working and home lives. They allow us easy and immediate communication with people all around the world.

But it’s not just digital technology which plays a central role in the way we communicate. If you think of something as simple as scribbling down a note with a pen for someone to read, this involves technologies such as paper, ink and pen (there was a time, after all, before these had been invented). And of course, the most fundamental language technology of all is writing itself.