Language of MMC: Shaping our Perception

THE SAPIR-WHORF HYPOTHESIS is a theory that the structure of a language shapes or limits the ways in which a speaker forms conceptions of the world.

In 2011, BBC Horizon screened an episode entitled ‘Do you See What I See’, testing this theory by studying members of the Himba Tribe of northern Namibia. Western language has eleven categories of colour, however Himbas only have five, with blue and green grouped together and yet more terms describing different shades of green.

The programme suggested that the structure of their language made it harder for the Himba’s to differentiate between blue and green and yet an increased ability to distinguish between small changes in green than we may find difficult to recognise.

Similar studies of other languages (such as Dani in New Guinea) also support a hypothesis of ‘linguistic relativity’ – that peoples perceptions are relative to their spoken language.

 Language influences our perception, attention and thought.

Consider this in the context of our industry.

The ever increasing quantity of neologisms – new words and phrases that sit outside mainstream language. The number of synonyms, acronyms and descriptions around terms such as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and offsite solutions introduces uncertainty that serve only to distract.

The Building Societies Association (BSA) has historically signalled a need for the construction industry to collaborate to standardise terminology; making it far easier for other sectors, including lenders to quickly understand and underwrite the risk.

We are limited in what we can build by what we are able to communicate. Many of the problems we now face are problems of language rather than technology.

Professor Achim Menges (Founding Director of Institute for Computational Design and Construction at University of Stuttgart)

At Akerlof, we have committed to using plain language – part of our role is to filter and distil the complex to provide simplicity and clarity in enabling informed decisions.

We use small words with big thinking.

Here on our website we have included a glossary focussed around Modern Methods of Construction and offsite solutions.

It aligns with definitions developed by sector leading organisations such as BuildOffsite, Offsite Hub, Loughborough University and New London Architecture; including a link to the definition framework produced by the Modern Method of Construction working group for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

The tool is available for you to use – to help you become better informed in shaping a better industry.

Jamie Hillier


With a penchant for tweed and jackets with leather arm patches, Jamie began his career as a quantity surveyor, before climbing the ladder to lead major projects for a Tier 1 contractor.

Eventually expanding his book collection beyond copies of SMM7, Jamie has interest in a broad range of subjects linked to delivering better outcomes for society and the environment.

His strategic insights on MMC and behavioural science have made their way into numerous government, industry and academic publications, including the Construction Playbook, Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030, the Platform Rulebook and the RIBA DfMA Overlay.

John Handscomb


Construction is in John’s blood. Learning from his father who was a planner and project manager, John began his career by working on some iconic projects in both the public and private sector.

As a procurement expert and integrator of new ways of working, John has pioneered the integration of platform principles, DfMA processes and supply chain within over £5bn projects in the last 15 years, for some of the largest building programmes in the UK. Despite his considerable expertise, John keeps it simple, communicating complicated ideas with ease and helping to equip the industry with new knowledge and skills.

Outside of Akerlof, John enjoys his executive role with technology start-up ScanTech Digital, spending time with his family, taking trips down the football, playing a bit of golf with friends and the odd pint. 

Our name is shared with George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

His seminal paper, Market for Lemons, demonstrated the devastating consequences of making decisions under the conditions of quality uncertainty and unequal information between buyers and sellers, increasing the chance of buyers ending up with a ‘lemon’.

This 50-year-old concept continues to retain parallels within the construction industry.

Through our insight and experience, we can rebalance this information asymmetry on behalf of our clients, levelling the playing field to deliver better outcomes.