Popular attitudes toward communication and language run the gamut from extravagantly positive -- "It is language that makes us human" -- to suspiciously negative -- "Language falsifies experience." We praise it one day for making possible human understanding and damn it the next for our even more human misunderstandings. We dislike signs that clutter our landscape, but complain bitterly when some directional sign is not provided. We insist on freedom of speech and object when the wrong people exploit it. We know that full information is indispensable for a free economy, but mistrust everything an advertiser says. We believe in universal literacy, but find reading a bore. So the contradictory catalogue runs.
Like it or not, however, there is no escaping it. Language in spoken or written form fills our days and minds. We rely on it for a thousand purposes, from Absolution to Zoography. Even in the simplest human societies, linguistic competence is the price of admission. In our own modern society, no hermit, no fugitive, can escape the range of our communication technology. From writing to printing to telegraphy to radio to television the pace of that technology has steadily accelerated.
Wise men knew their importance long ago, but only in the twentieth century have we begun to subject communication and language to the kind of scholarly and scientific analysis their importance merits. Today the study of communication and language flourishes as never before. Technological innovations and the emergence of vast new communication industries provided the economic and social background for this development, and almost every field of intellectual endeavor has, directly or indirectly, contributed to it. Psychologists, linguists, philosophers, engineers, physicians, teachers, acousticians, anthropologists, sociologists, mathematicians -- the list of disciplines that have brought their concepts and methods to bear on communication and language is too long to record.
Because communication and language are so ubiquitous and have been studied from so many points of view for so many di-