Archive for December, 2006

Language nuances

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

Today I have been watching some old videos made by an interesting person I stumbled upon yesterday, Tom Guarriello who also writes the TrueTalk Blog. While watching this video which touches business jargon in a humoristic way and hearing Tom list some words he thinks are used mainly to obfuscate what is really being said, I was reminded of the thoughts I have had on the subject of language nuances.

What really struck me in the video was that most the terms Tom listed sounded really natural to me. That means that I myself have formed in my mind a clear representation of the terms and thus can quickly form thought structures based on those words. Since I have had quite a lot of contact with texts and speeches that use those words, I have become more and more assured from the contexts that the words really convey the same meaning that I understand from them.

And then comes Tom, telling me that these words are really used mainly to obfuscate.

Now, I am a strong believer in subjective realities, meaning that all information we gather from the world is strongly influenced by our own minds. Since our minds have developed independently (although most of us sharing a relatively similiar culture), it is very natural to end up in situations where people end up having a very different take on a subject based on the same information. Thus it would be normal to just handle this discrepancy by thinking that it is natural for people to have slightly different views and adjust my personal view slightly towards Tom’s so that it might fit closer to the average perception that would help me communicate with people better.

There is just a slight problem: Tom is a native english speaker who apparently has made a career for himself out of conversing while I am a non-native speaker whose perception of english is mainly built on reading and listening things that are essentially monologues.

So clearly Tom has a much better understanding of the nuances these words carry in the real life, which naturally puts a lot of pressure on me to shift my views more than normally towards his views. But the question is, should it really?

I am not disputing the fact that I am a non-native speaker and thus have a much worse command of the language than Tom, but what I would like to point out is that the world is full of people like me in this matter. Internet and globalized world is bridging together masses of people who are non-native english speakers, have limited possibilities to converse with native speakers and thus have very little chance of gathering most of the nuances of the language. Yet still these people have to use english as their medium of communication with each other and also native speakers.

Is it reasonable to expect non-native speakers to try to understand words with all the nuances that native speakers generally do or will becoming the global business language be the demise of these little nuances? Time will tell but I think we are still going to be picking the low hanging fruits for a long time since the phrase does have a clear logical justification, even if we as humans often fail to understand the full implications of our planned actions.