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What is Linguistic Intelligence?

Linguistic Intelligence is a part of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory that deals with an individual’s ability to understand both spoken and written language, as well as their ability to speak and write themselves. It is the extent to which an individual can use language, both written and verbal, to achieve goals, problem solve and increase abstract reasoning.

There are four basic aspects of language that one needs to review when analysing linguistic intelligence – phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

Phonology is the study of how sounds are organised and used in natural languages. The phonological system of language includes an inventory of sounds and their features, as well as, rules which specify how sounds interact with each other. Phonology, the sounds of words, dictates that they can rhyme with each other (“cat’’ and “hat’’) and have different spellings yet share the same pronunciation (“through’’ and “threw”).

Syntax is the study of the rules whereby words and other elements of sentence structure are combined to form grammatical sentences. It governs the systematic order, structure, and arrangement of words in sentences.

Semantics, a more applied skill, is concerned with the meaning of words and their connotations. Semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistic expressions. Frequently, words have to be chosen with care because small differences in construction can really alter meanings to the ones originally intended; think of the subtleties between “simple’’ and “simplistic’’. The adjective “simple” means plain, ordinary, uncomplicated. The adjective “simplistic” means overly simplified and characterised by extreme and often misleading simplicity.

Pragmatics is the ability to interpret intended meaning and is a way of investigating how sense can be made of certain texts even when the text seems to be either incomplete or to have a different meaning to what is really intended. You also need to consider facial expression, body language, tone, inflection, and sophisticated language devices like idioms (“change of heart”) when interpreting what someone is actually saying.

Language is obviously critical to those who forge a career from it like writers and actors, but how do the rest of us actually use language?

Language is used to convince other people about our points of view or preferred course of action. This function is important for many day-to-day interpersonal interactions, as well as leadership and management situations. It is used as a tool for remembering information either simply by verbally labeling an object in a memorable way, or by creating a complex language device, such as an acronym. Language is used for learning and to explain and reflect.

People who are linguistically intelligent might enjoy storytelling, debating, conversing, presenting, reading aloud, dramatizing, researching topics through books, listening, or writing journal entries.

So how do you improve your linguistic intelligence?

Following this list of activities will help improve your linguistic intelligence and increase your confidence in using English on a daily basis.

  1. Play chess, card games and word games (e.g. scrabble, anagrams, and crosswords).
  2. Keep a journal of things that fascinate or interest you.
  3. Write about a country or city you want to visit.
  4. Write a story or poem.
  5. Have regular debates and discussions.
  6. Subscribe to a high-quality newspaper or magazine.
  7. Use one new word in your conversation every day.
  8. Join a book club and read a book every month.
  9. Write book reviews and have book discussions.
  10. Learn a foreign language.
  11. Attend extra writing lessons at the Wits Language School.
  12. Record yourself speaking into a tape recorder and listen to the playback.
  13. Visit the library and bookshops regularly.
  14. Circle unfamiliar words you encounter during your reading and look them up.