This post by A Cup of Jo presents a wonderful way to teach children how to jump into a conversation without interrupting. When you start out studying language and discourse analysis, you often look to children--and pay attention to when they "disrupt"--to identify the "hidden" rules of conversation. Certainly, knowing when to jump in and take a turn at talk is a skill we are not born with. With time (and some nudges from mom and dad, etc.), we learn to listen for the context, the non verbals, etc., and eventually we get it. Most of the time in a conversation, only one person is talking. Thanks to A Cup of Jo for the great tip!
“Okay, love you, bye.”
He hung up the phone, and realized he’d just professed his love to a CLIENT! This is a true story, as told by my friend Ron, about a colleague at work. (Perhaps it’s happened to you?)
For many, “I love you,” is conversation closer. It works like, “Goodbye!” It has its place at the end of many phone conversations or short discussions. It sends a little love. It wraps things up. It works beautifully, as long as it’s not misdirected (i.e., to a client). That misdirection can happen when “love you” becomes routine—when “love you” fills the same conversational place as “bye,” a word with a lot less heart.
While I love spreading love, I urge you, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, to put the meaning (and heart) back into these precious words. At least for your Valentine...Agreed?
(P.S. I don’t know how Ron’s colleague resolved things with his client. As my friend tells the story, it ends with ridicule from the cubicle-mates who were within earshot of the gaffe.)
Years ago, I worked for a U.S. university study abroad program in Madrid. Living abroad—if you do it right—pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you ache for the familiar. You learn about your creature comforts, your quirks, and your hot buttons. And that’s where you grow.
In that job, my primary role was to keep students feeling safe enough that they could dare to “do it right,” that is, be adventurous and go exploring, try new foods and hobbies—and journal, talk through, and process the experience…so they could learn. (It was study abroad, after all.) As a general rule, I talked in terms of ‘cultural values,’ ‘practices,’ and history. I didn’t make lists of cultural dos/don’ts….However, there were a few dos/don’ts we taught students right away:
In flamenco, the dancer is part of the band. With his/her stomping/clapping, he/she is the percussion. If eager tourists get carried away and clap along with the dancers, they can redirect the song. Tuning into this cultural norm about ‘when to clap’ is not so much a cultural do/don’t. It’s about knowing how to communicate. It’s about knowing when you’re part of the conversation vs. a ratified listener.
When you’re a child and speak out of turn, you might get shushed. In those instances, you’re a ratified listener, and you probably don’t know how to sense when it’s your turn to speak. After years of coaching on how to get a word in edgewise, children figure it out. We all do, eventually. As a tourist at your first flamenco show, you might not think to follow the locals’ lead. Or the house may be packed with tourists. If that’s the case, where do you get your cue?
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
**Click here to visit the Corporate B.S. Generator (image above).**
Every community has its lingo.
(If you don't believe me, just ear hustle on a group of teenagers the next time you are in line at the movies. Assuming you're not a teenager yourself, you may just learn a word or two!)
Nonetheless, making fun of "in-group" language, whether you call it jargon or slang, is a common human reaction. Why? Noticing how *others* talk helps us (in turn) identify *ourselves.*
Our ability to draw on "different ways" of speaking helps us build relationships. Depending on who you're talking to, and what the setting is, you can "play up" certain phraseology or pronunciation in order to send the meta message that, "I'm like you" or "I get you." Linguists study how we "style shift" depending on who we are speaking to, and depending on the context of the conversation. We vary our style all the time. It's part of being "successful" in life. If you address a police officer who has pulled you over for speeding in the same way that you console a fussy baby, you might provoke a misunderstanding...or worse!
My first semester of grad school, I wrote a paper on corporate jargon. In the years prior, I had taken notes during business meetings, as I noticed "new" phrases and words that I associated with the "corporate world," the "management consulting world," or the "world of government contracting." My anecdotal observation was that, the higher you climbed the corporate ladder, the more "strong" your corporate "accent." I was desperately curious to find out if there was a correlation between being "proficient" in jargon and career success.
So, I designed a short survey to investigate...Nearly ninety colleagues, at all levels in the organization, responded to questions designed to
1. Gauge their attitudes toward the "jargon"
2. Invite them to identify words/phrases they associated with "our lexicon"
3. Determine which happened more often: Did they use the jargon more than others, or did others use it more than they did?
The project was therapy for me, and it turned out to be a huge empathy-fest for my colleagues/informants. The survey's high response rate (over 80%!) signaled to me that I was not the only one who was intrigued by this interesting phenomenon. The list of words and phrases and commentary signaled that I was not the only one who felt a certain dis-ease (or disgust!) with "our lexicon."
The most interesting result was related to item number (3.) above: 83% of respondents indicated that it is their colleagues, not they themselves, who are using the jargon. There are many possible explanations for this result, including lack of self awareness, denial, and flaws with my survey sampling and survey design.
What do you think?
Over time, words shift in meaning. Take the word "wireless," for example. It started out as a noun that means radio. Now, well, you know what wireless means.
As society, culture, and technology evolve, we sometimes need to stretch our words to describe the concepts in our world… Sometimes we innovate and coin new words. Sometimes we assign new meanings to--or rework the meanings of--"old" words.
Marketers can play on word meanings--and even provoke a word shift--with their clever messaging. Lately, I have been noticing the word "naked" used in a new way, for example:
As a marketing word, "naked" is certainly an attention grabber! While the meaning used to be more narrow (e.g., limited to "naked body" or "the naked truth"), it's expanded to fill a gap in our whole foods vocabulary. Now, "naked" means pure, uncoated, natural.
How else will we use starting using it?
For more on language change, read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/yourvoice/language_change2.shtml
What does American English sound like to someone who doesn't speak English?
Prisencolinensinainciusol, a song by Italian Adriano Celentano, answers that question. Take a look at the video. What do you hear?
Inspired by the theme of "incomprehension," Celentano composed this song using the sounds of American English--and some actual English words--in a jumbled, nonsensical way. The result is a glimpse at what we sound like to someone who can't understand us.
When it came out in the early 1970s, the song was a big hit in Europe. For more background, listen to this NPR Interview with Celentano (November, 2012).
It's been a while since I was surrounded by people I could not communicate with. Does the song make you recall a time when you struggled to make yourself understood?
Many thanks to Maria Checchia-Ciazza for this Guest Post:
You want to stop conversation at a party? Tell someone you’re a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). Unless the person you’re speaking to is a SAHM herself, you’ll get one, maybe two weak questions back, such as, “How old are your kids?” Then, the person politely excuses him/herself to go grab another drink.
Why? Because a SAHM just sounds so darn boring!
First, there were "housewives," then "homemakers." And it was only in the early 1990s, when women rightly objected to both of those because they made raising children more about the home than the kids, did we start using the term “stay-at-home mom.” To me, all these terms feel like a kick in the pants.
Is there a way to describe mothers and their relationship with the paid workforce without insulting them?
Stay-at-home mother? “Most of them are never home. Spend hours as unpaid taxi drivers!”
Working mother? “Of course, we are working every minute of every day!”
Non-working mother? “Seriously? No sick days allowed!”
Full-time mother? “How can you clock your hours? Whether I am at home or work, I am always a mother!”
Here’s another thought. How about the fact that society never feels the need to “label” fathers with “working” terms?
I would suggest that a replacement term has to meet two criteria. First, that it apply to men as well as women. Second, that it include those who are parents and those who are not. Our social ideal should be a work/life model where everyone shapes a career that includes times where we work full-force and times when we kick back, and our words should be consistent with that. They should embrace the sense of ebb and flow, more and less that are the truth of most of our lives, rather than the stop and start, one or the other, that are unrealistically divisive.
Aren’t we, as a culture, free to come up with a new word to refer to stay-at-home parents? Here are some I've heard: “domestic goddess,” “primary caregiver,” and “domestic engineer.”
Maybe, we should simply change the term SAHM and make it the French, “C’est une mere chez soi.”
Whatever the term, it’s past time we find one. Any suggestions?
I was headed to Italy with a dear friend who had never been to Europe. "I've heard a lot about gelato," she said. "What flavors do they have? Just chocolate and vanilla, or other flavors?"
Her questions reminded me that chocolate and vanilla are the standard, "basic" flavors you find in the U.S. A small ice cream shop might only have those two options, and you'd expect a larger shop to offer chocolate and vanilla (by default) plus other options.
More deeply, my friend's questions made me reflect on what's "standard" or "plain"--and how that's culturally-bounded.
In the U.S., we refer to something as "plain vanilla" to indicate the option that has little embellishment or elaboration. For example, a "plain vanilla" outfit, car, or house is the simplest version offered. As an expression, "plain vanilla" holds a lot of cultural meaning.
Incidentally, in Italy, you're just as likely to encounter a small gelato shop that offers sour cherry, hazelnut, or nougat as you are to see "plain" chocolate. Vanilla, on the other hand, is pretty exotic. The standard, "unmarked" base flavor is "gelato alla crema," made with milk, sugar, and egg. Vanilla, as an aroma, is as noteworthy in Italy as rosewater or orange blossom would be in the U.S.
(Needless to say, my friend and I both enjoyed all the flavors we tried!)
What expressions do you use that reveal your cultural frame or bias? How might these expressions translate across cultures? What do they reveal about your expectations of "how things should always be?"
We’ve been using the phrase “in this economy” to refer to state of the economy.
A couple examples that might sound plausible to you:
Built into the expression, “in this economy,” is the understanding that we are facing an economic situation where there’s little to no growth, unemployment is high, and poverty is on the rise. In sum, times are tough.
We can agree on what “in this economy” means, but why do we say, “in this economy?” It’s always interesting to think about what we’re choosing to say—and all the alternatives. What are we not saying? Why not say, “the current economic situation?” Why not say, “recession” or “depression,” or “crisis?”
Linguists look at a phrase like “in this economy” and notice the word “this.” It’s a term that reflects “deixis,” or situates the phrase in space and time. Depending on the speaker and the context, terms like “this” and “that” attach themselves to different meanings.
In the expression, “in this economy,” the word “this” does two things:
Saying “in this economy” is different from saying “current economy,” which speaks to a time in place (now) and presumes that, with time, the economic situation might change.
To what extent is how we think about the economy shaped by the currency of the phrase “in this economy?”
(I am not crazy enough to think that an economic crisis can pass with a slight mindset/language change, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.)
Years ago, we invited my uncle and family to dinner. The meal was delicious. My mom is an excellent cook.
My uncle commented that the meal was “restaurant style,” and my mom took offense. Was it a compliment? What did he mean by “restaurant style?”
At the time, no one asked him to clarify, and, years later, the family debate on the topic (still) sounds like this:
· My mom is certain that her brother was not impressed. To my mom, a home cook takes care to prepare a meal with respect for quality and tradition; whereas, restaurants “throw things on a plate” to turn a profit.
· I (and others) suspect he was complimenting the meal (at best) or inferring that the dishes were new or different (at worst). In Italy, restaurants are places where you’re introduced to a new flavor or a fresh spin on a traditional dish. You eat out to enjoy something you cannot (or would not) make yourself.
We’ll never know for sure if this was a cross-cultural misunderstanding or the case of an ungrateful guest.
How could a brother and sister have such a misunderstanding?
My mom grew up in Italy, but has lived in the U.S. for over fifty years. Her brother has lived in Italy his whole life. They see each other infrequently, when my family visits Italy.
It’s possible that the cultural lens through which each of them is filtering the term “restaurant style” is different. I suspect that my mom’s cooking skills don’t factor into the discussion at all. It’s all about the cultural value you attribute to restaurants and eating out.
Clearly, there’s mixed opinion on the topic.
In the U.S., marketers play to both camps—those of us who wish we could prepare a meal as well as our favorite restaurants do, and those of us who long for home-cooked meals. A quick walk down any grocery store aisle will display some products boasting “home style” and others promising “restaurant style.”
Which is your bias? How might it influence your shopping choices? Or your comments to a gracious host?