The Language of Communication

I was dreaming some story about a guy who wouldn’t say or acknowledge hearing words which ended in S, unless they were plurals. His first name ended in S, so he wouldn’t respond unless you called him by his middle or last name. Somehow he had a following.

That sounded strange until I remember that I wouldn’t say my Rs correctly when I was young. This got me into speech class which was way more interesting than my regular class. The reason I wouldn’t say them is that I learned how to speak near Boston, where they pronounce Rs as Ws and vice-versa. I just did the vice and not the versa.

In spite of strange self-imposed rules like that, language is important. I’m somewhat of a language expert. I pick up other languages quickly, and often use words or phrases from foreign languages (and sometimes made up languages) in my books. I created a meta-language for computers (and for programmers and non-programmers to communicate) called Hi5ive. A metalanguage is a language to describe other languages. Hi5ive does this by reducing computer languages to their common elements. It has very few commands or statements. I guess Hi5ive is really more of a universal computer language than a metalanguage. Esperanto is another universal language.

English is theoretically a Universal Language. I can go almost anywhere and somebody will speak English. I have been places where no one spoke English. And once in Mexico, somebody tried to speak English to me, very poorly. We could have understood each other much better speaking Spanish, even though I spoke Spanish from Spain, rather than Mexico at the time. Still, he was trying. And I appreciated that. A question on Twitter today was whether “you Americans would understand the term chav”. I know some British terms, but had to look that one up. In my opinion, if you’re writing a British book or are a Brit writing a book, use British terms. There are plenty of dictionaries on the web. If you know that a term might throw readers off or that they won’t get the story if they don’t look it up, put it in context. That’s my answer.

Speaking of terms one might not understand, consider trade languages. If you work in a certain trade – computers, for example, there are terms that you use which are only understood by those in the trade. And that’s ok, within the trade. It can form a camaraderie. It can let you know that this person understands the work – though they may only know the terms and not what they really mean.

Somebody once asked me what technology platforms I use. Even though I work with computers, I had no idea what she meant. I asked her to put it in other terms, no response. If she was trying to get new customers, it didn’t work. But it often happens that people speak to those outside their trade, using terms of their trade, expecting them to know what they’re talking about. I’m probably guilty of the same, but I try to explain things in terms that others will understand while not talking down to them. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to put it in simple terms of a trade language. The other person may not understand those, but when they ask, it will be easier for me to think of other terms that they might understand. I try not to spout off acronyms that I forget (or never knew) the meaning of.

When I write, I often look up words, especially if they’re slang. I want to make sure they’re not racist or otherwise derogatory. If they are, I find another term which is not.

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