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How Are Words Constructed and Why Does This Matter?

Words are constructed of sounds. Words usually contain vowels and consonants. They are made up of short and long sounds, plosives and continuants, of voiced and unvoiced sounds. And each of these components lends words different values. Different qualities. Different nuances. So when you take up a word to use it, find out how you relate to these different sounds. To how long or short they are. How open or small they are. How they live in your mouth. How they want to be shaped by your resonators and articulators. What energy they produce. How they want to leave your mouth. What they feel like. What impact they have. 

And because all of the above variables exist word by word and mouth by mouth, we will choose to say one word over another when speaking. We select words in speech because of how they feel and sound as we speak them. We instinctively know that one word will have one impact and another word another impact.  

Think of the following words and how you would on over the other in different contexts:

  • Holiday, vacation, break
  • Catching up, gaining on, running down, narrowing the gap
  • Food, sustenance, chow, feed
  • Snacks, pad kos, nibbles, nick nacks, chow
  • Sick, ill, unwell, not well, green, at death’s door
  • Content, satisfied, happy
  • Ja, yes, sure, of course
  • Brother, boet, bra, bru, china
  • Tickers, blinkers, flickers, indicators 

I think that it is useful at this point to point out that this is why in multi-cultural environments or in sub cultures, speakers and languages often take on or adopt words from other languages. Because the adopted word may well just feel right, feel better, feel more expressive, and encapsulate what it is you are trying to say. They may just better capture the meaning you need to express in the moment.  

I love this about words! I love that even though we may think that they are random and lifeless, and that are not integral in our lives, they are in fact actually very instrumental, instructive and revealing. I love that that they are our outlets, our emotion overflow valves, our channels of expression, and the window on our imagination and souls. I love that how we use them so instinctively and accurately reflects our inner lives. (That is why ‘presented speech’ actually bores us. Because it reflects that we are reading rather than communicating.) 

And so you can see how important it is for you to grasp how words are constructed and chosen for use.  

Now rather than just picking up a text and reciting or spewing it out, you can pick it up and unpack it, consider it and explore it and so sound and be more connected. 

© Donald Woodburn 

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