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  • Writer's pictureEloise Leeson

Why do you need me to show you a toolkit you already have?!

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Language: we’re obsessed with it, aren’t we? From the moment we begin to acquire language as children, we are fascinated and delighted by our ability to click, pop, whistle, trill, burble, chirp and more. We emit all kinds of sounds as we map the gentle geography of our own mouths, navigating this new-found land with glee.

Over time, sounds coagulate, and become morphemes; units of meaning. Whether isolated, agglutinating, polysynthetic, or any other typological flavour, we unconsciously string our words together like so much fine jewelry, a cheerful thread that doesn’t always have to make sense.

Many of us have played games with language since childhood, but may never have closely, consciously examined the process of doing so at all. To play with language, to understand its abstract processes, requires a degree of metalinguistic consciousness. Metalinguistics is, in the broadest terms, language that discusses language, or the art of talking about talking. In other terms, it’s:

“...the ability to attend to, and reflect upon, the properties of a language."*

I realise I’ve taken more than three paragraphs to get to the point, but the point is this: the reason it’s so difficult to discuss data in a way that works for everyone, is that we suffer from a lack of language-consciousness.

If we all uncovered the skills we sometimes use subconsciously (like manipulation, negotiation, influencing) or the social strictures we’ve been co-opted into (Grice's maxims of conversation, the subtleties of tone, the appropriateness of response), we could take the tools of language and use them to enhance our ability to communicate from that moment on.

Lawyers do this. Linguists do this (it makes us crafty). Politicians do this (it definitely makes them crafty). And data analysts can do it, too. Word play is a wonderful way to begin - children’s rhymes, nonsense couplets, and - a personal guilty pleasure - limericks provide a wealth of education in how to think, talk, and question the way we communicate. Think about why they’re all so much fun to do. What makes them work, and most importantly - what doesn’t.

During our TalkData workshop, we play with language, shedding light on the unconscious competencies you already have - and then we provide you with a unique toolkit, specified for your needs, to make you a potent, powerful communicator of data and data-related issues.

Using metalinguistics and critical discourse analysis (more on that in a future piece) we create a code for your language output, revealing the secrets that ensure both effective, and enjoyable conversation, for good.

*Roth, F. P., Speece, D. L., Cooper, D. H., & De La Paz, S. (1996). Unresolved mysteries: How do metalinguistic and narrative skills connect with early reading? The Journal of Special Education, 30, 257-277

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