Language: Words, Communication, and Manners

Addressing the topic of Language seems pretty ambitious to me. Ethnologue, a catalog of languages says that there are 6,909 different languages in the world today. That is pretty daunting when you think about the fact that most Americans only speak one language. Even still, among English the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) has captured samples of over 100  English dialects. Within that, what distinguishes a dialect from an accent? So already we see that this is a very broad and far reaching topic.

If you are currently reading this, it can be safely assumed that you know some English, so we will use that as our root language or this month. I am curious though, about differences between native speakers, and those that have formally learned the language. Also those that have picked it up socially and have a conversational fluency as a result of immersion. They say that is best way to learn a language. Our command of a language is also very subjective. Where you pick up the phrases and how powerful words are to you, are all a product of how you came to understand their meaning and the prescribed context that you think they hold. This context is also not the end all rule, we must also account for tone.

If by some chance we are able to grasp a solid command of the technical use of it all we then actually must know what we are trying to say.. There are tons of courses on communication and what it means along with its associated rules and we will dig into that a bit this month. In conversation, we are constantly asserting the forces of semantics, and connotation, denotation, diction, assumption, and implication in overt and subtle ways, often without knowing it. This causes difficulty when speaking to older or younger people. Could it be that the starting point for our generation has shifted? How we relate effects our trust, and ability to move forward socially. Which rules should be rigid, and which rules should be bent or broken?

I would like to investigate the Language Arts; poetry, prose, songwriting, essays, and even more contemporary objects of language like digital shorthand, hash tags.It should be gr8! The current generation is coming up with new words at a rapid pace in just English alone and because of our global connectivity these words spread much more quickly. Does this effect the life span of these words? How long do new words maintain their potency in relation to older ones?

In the same breath as Language Art we must dissect censorship, not only from institutions, but self-censorship. Some times we hold back truth, to “find the right words” or we use devices like euphemism and metaphor to pad difficult conversations. But are these devices effective communication tools or do they just create confusion? A common colloquialism in the late 80’s and early 90’s was “political correctness” or PC.  There comes a point when we must acknowledge the power of words to hurt and address their use in responsible ways. At the same time, we should recognize that the power words harbor is attributed by the people using them and is in our control.

Etiquette is such a touchy subject we just have to look into it. Can we distinguish being polite from being subversive? Is there a difference at all? We’ll talk about manners this month as well. We will explore these components with the  C2O Book Club as we read Henry Hitchings’ Language Wars. In addition to that text we will meet with linguists, multi-linguals, native speakers, translators, public speakers,writers, and poets for first person accounts of how they use language and what impact it has on their personality and life. Words effect us when we share them but even when we don’t so we’ll spend some looking at secrets, gossip, and rumors while we are at it.

Beneath it all is some form of intent, and it should be noted that language is a tool of society like any other. It is use to transfer ideas that can be used to build or destroy. In the interest of building, I hope you’ll stick with us on this topic and see where end up. You are invited to join in the offline discussion with The Breakfast Club this month if you are in LA as well, we’ll meet on April 27th in Downtown LA. More details to follow on that.

Off we go!


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