Saturday, October 22, 2011

Talking about Language

Language is not only a part of our daily life, but also an elementary part of our culture. Even within one country or state, there are regional differences in the same language. The differences between U.S., Australian, and British English (e.g., traffic light vs. robot) are actually modest compared to differences between dialects of Spanish and German.

Idioms are figures of speech that are not be used (when literally translated) in other languages. For example, the notion of “knock it out of the ball park” makes sense in the US, but is not understood in other countries. The noun “serendipity” is also mainly used in the US, and will not be understood by non-Americans.

But information is also transferred in non-verbal communication. In some cultures, people nod to signify “yes” and shake their heads to signify “no;” in other cultures (e.g., Greece, India) this practice is different.

If we look ad neologisms, there is a language issue there as well. Neologisms are terms that have come into language relatively recently as technology or society involved. Computer technology gave birth to the term “spam” and “add-on”. But different countries use different words. A computer is called a “Rechner” in German-speaking countries. A cell phone is called a “mobiel” in Dutch and a “Handy” in German.

Slang exists within almost all languages known to man. Slang does not only vary per region, but also per social group. There are often significant generation gaps in the use of slang (e.g., groovy).

Language is alive and always evolving. It’s one of the most creative tools to express feelings or convey an idea. Every day, new expressions and concepts are being coined (e.g., 9-9-9 tax plan).

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