Language is one of our most basic instincts. From birth humans communicate, at first in order to survive - to ensure that needs are met. But at an amazing rate communication becomes refined into language, one of the defining characteristics of human beings. In The Language Instinct Stephen Pinker writes:
In any natural history of the human species, language would stand out as the pre-eminent trait… A common language connects the members of a community into an information-sharing network with formidable collective powers. Anyone can benefit from the strokes of genius, lucky accidents, and trial-and-error wisdom accumulated by everyone else, present or past. And people can work in teams, their efforts coordinated by negotiated agreements. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1994, 16)
As Pinker points out, language is what allows us to build on the work of others, benefiting from their knowledge and collaborating to achieve more than one person can alone. The processes of diplomacy - communicating, negotiating, reaching and formulating agreements, collecting, creating, transmitting and recording knowledge - all depend on language.
Studies of diplomacy usually concentrate on the message rather than the means. However, examination of language use in diplomacy can lead to a better understanding of the way diplomacy functions and why some diplomatic processes are more successful than others. Through careful and critical attention to various aspects of diplomatic language we can improve our understanding of both the explicit and implicit messages world leaders and other political figures send out, and improve our own ability to communicate in the most effective and appropriate ways.