The technical make up of language – Lexicon and Grammar

This article examines the technical make up of language, the lexicon and grammar.  It also examines how they apply not only in every day conversation but in the importance of management and communication.

Understanding the structure of language allows you to better review your communications.

  • Lexicon and grammar
  • The meaning of a word
  • You know two languages already
  • Language in business


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Lexicon and grammar

The basic elements of language

Every language, including computer languages is broken into two parts.  A lexicon and a grammar.  The grammar is the set of rules that sticks words together.  The lexicon is the collection of words.

As a child grows, they listen to the world around them and pick up words.  As time continues their lexicon grows.  They then begin to apply grammar.  Even though it’s all verbal you are learning the language

As an adult you will have picked up a lexicon.  Depending on where you live and the company you keep you will pick up words or phrases that are specific to the area, this is called jargon.


Let me in on the joke

One word can describe an entire concept.  If you don’t know what concept that world describes you can feel frustrated and unable to participate in the conversation.

Brian Kerr
Profile photo of Brian Kerr from

Former Ireland Soccer manager Brian Kerr during his commentary of the 2018 World Cup introduced the wider public to a unique subset of jargon that is quite common to the football world of Dublin schoolboy soccer.  To a set of Irish culture it became a talking point.

A dictionary provides a collection of words and their meanings.  It is a version of a lexicon.  It is possible to spend a life time and still not know all the words and their meanings in a dictionary.


Is it showing off or knowing the right word?

In business and specific areas of business, one word can describe a very important concept or idea.  For example in science, sublimation.  If you know what this word means, great.  If you don’t then you’ll either quickly read past it or have to go look it up.

Sublimation.  When ice melts it goes from solid to liquid water.  Then after a time that water evaporates into a gas (steam) which floats away. (It dries up).  Sublimation is when a solid goes straight into a gas, there is no liquid.

So if you have learnt sublimation, which you now have, you’re in on it.  If you haven’t learnt it, then it can be quite stressful for the person who doesn’t know.

You may not use the word in your everyday conversations but it expands your ability to communicate effectively.


The meaning of a word


At my brothers wedding the priest presiding over the wedding was my cousin Bryan Shortall.  He gave a homily that stuck with me forever.  It highlighted the limitations of language, specifically English.  I paraphrase here, Bryan was far more eloquent.


Very Rev. Fr. Bryan Shortall
Fr Bryan Shortall, Unveiling Ceremony of a monument to Eugene Lynch uploaded to Flikr by Ken Larkin

Love.  Love in English is a limited word. 

In Greek there are many different words for love.  For example here are 3 of the 7 different words. 

Eros, Philia and Agape. 

To say I love Manchester United or I love a nice coffee is eros. 

I love my brother, my mother and my father is Philia. 

To have a deep connection with my spouse or the connection to my children is agape.


Bryan taught me that a word I’d used very often since I was a child was woefully ambiguous.

When choosing your words it can help to have a good understanding of their focus and meaning to others.


Verbal trickery

Some parts of the English language only work when spoken and not when they’re written down.

  • A farmer sews his crops in the field.
  • A seamstress sows garmets
  • The both sow/sew.
  • How do you spell that final sow/sew.

This example works when said as sow and sew are pronounced the same but when written down leave a problem for the author.

Clarity of thought would mean the author needs to separate the two statements to get the right spelling.


You know two languages already

Learning in school

I wondered why, as a child growing up, was there English, Irish and Maths as subjects which were studied separately.

English is my first language but in those classes we weren’t explicitly taught lexicon and grammar, we focused a lot more on Shakespeare and modern literature.

Yet in my Irish class we were taught amongst other things, the tenses, An Aimsir Chaite (The Past tense), An Aimsir Láithreach (The Present tense), An Aimsir Fháistineach (The Future tense) and An Modh Coinníollach (The Conditional tense). There was a little literature but it certainly wasn’t the approach of the English classes.

We also studied Maths which seemed completely different again.

The understanding of what we were being taught was never highlighted to me as a student.  I was being taught the lexicon, not why I was being taught it.


Highlighting the similarity in the subjects

As I learnt computer programming, which some people think is like maths, I became aware of the differences.

  • Maths is a language.  It has a lexicon and a grammar.
  • English is a language.  It has a lexicon and a grammar.
  • Irish is a language.  It has a lexicon and a grammar.

So as you learn you have to learn the two parts.  You learn the grammar and the lexicon in tandem.  The lexicon is more difficult to learn as it takes time.

Maths is the lexicon of specifics.  It is unambiguous.  English is the lexicon of vagueness, of feelings. You need both to have maths and English to communicate effectively in everyday life.  Children tend to gravitate study wise to whichever lexicon they comprehend more quickly.


Take the two sentences.  “I have one apple.  That apple is delicious.”

The first has a mathematical word, one, which is an absolute concept which we have all learnt from early child hood.  One, two, three.

Delicious is an English word, which has a meaning, a feeling behind it which we have to learn.


Without the lexicon of both English and Maths it’s impossible to convey the specific meaning of lots of scenarios.  So the subjects in school teach us the “meaning” within lexicons.


The lexicon of maths

The maths lexicon builds up slowly but needs to build.

Numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, algebra, calculus, angles, etc.  The order is done so that when the teacher uses a word like division when discussing angles, you understand the concept.  If you miss a word in the sequence or don’t grasp what it means, then everything after that is so much harder to pick up.

You’re left out of the joke because the jargon means nothing to you.

Often this gap in a student’s knowledge leads to hating the subject forever after it.


The lexicon of English

The English lexicon has stand alone words which allows you to learn them as they are taught.  You don’t need to understand happiness before you can understand empathy.

We studied Hamlet as our Shakespearean play.  It has a lot of emotions in it.  This play allows you to experience those emotions without having to have them in your own life.

Hopefully no one ever has to feel loneliness, stress or the desire to give up on life.  Yet you can experience it in part through a character in a story.  If you have experienced the feeling, suddenly the character and the story means so much more to you.  You identify with the story.

The famous “to be or not to be” speech, the meaning of the words, the lexicon is… “to be” should I keep living, “or not to be” or should I kill myself, commit suicide. Pretty heavy stuff.

Again the jargon of “to be or not to be”, if you haven’t experienced the feeling how are you to be able to identify with what’s going on.


Language in business

Daily language

When a new person in the team starts, there will be stories, anecdotes, background they simply haven’t experienced yet.  If you include them in the stories, they get the joke, they become more comfortable.  Forget to include them an a feeling of resentment can arise.

As a manager you need to include people in the joke.  The bxp software team in All n One have developed a tongue in cheek article helping new staff with some of the jargon.

Be conscious of people new to the team or area who may not be in on the joke and too polite to ask.



When you’re selling consider the jargon you’re using when introducing your product.  If you have to explain too much jargon, as an adult, your audience can easily become frustrated with the product or having to be taught like a child.  It can greatly affect adoption.

Keep the concepts simple and common.  Where a client introduces jargon to the discussion then by all means.

Do not be afraid to clarify big concepts before beginning a discussion.  As an example from my own professional career, asking a client before getting into a presentation, “do you understand when I mean by an ESS?”  Employee Self-Service solution.  Sometimes three letters can represent a very big idea.


Technical writing

Writing material to help people perform a task is a skill called technical writing.

Being able to provide instruction using short, concise sentences takes practice and can be a professional marketable skill.  Removing all possible ambiguity, feeling or interpretation is the goal.

Wikihow has a great article for guidance.


If you need a hand with technical writing or would like to chat about any of the points in this article please get in touch through social media or contact me here.


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