Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Watch your Language

Here at university, I am majoring in communications. Although my specialization is journalism, I still am required to take courses that focus more on the study of communication and the theories that surround it.

This semester I am enrolled in a communications theory class, learning what experts in the communication field have developed as theories of how we communicate. This has become a more amusing class then I would have ever imagined. I had always developed theories in my mind as to why people communicate the way they do but didn’t know that my thoughts were shared by many communications professionals.

I already had my own definitions for the types of communicators I come across and have developed my own terms for their communication faux-pas. My terms include the “zero-filter people” who never know when to stop sharing their life’s stories, and the “bubble invaders” who lack the ability to sense one’s bubble of personal space. When I learned that people with doctorate degrees had given these people titles and documented their characteristics, I was quite amused.

We recently studied a theory that was more interesting than amusing to me; it was called the Sapir-Whorf theory. Based on the idea that Eskimos have a more words for types of snow than Americans, Sapir and Whorf believed that a culture’s language is shaped by what it is on the minds of its society.

Em Griffin wrote in A First Look At Communications Theory that this theory “counters the assumptions that all languages are similar and that words merely act as neutral vehicles to carry meaning.”

Each language and each culture has a vocabulary that cannot be simply translated through a bilingual dictionary, shaped by what is important to its culture.

Many times my American friends and roommates will make little jokes about the way that I speak. They insist that I don’t speak English, but that I speak “Canadian” – a dialect all to itself.

As much as I try to make my sentences and phrases as understandable as possible, when speaking quickly, my vocabulary becomes “Canadian-ese.”

My friends and I have developed a dictionary as to what our words mean, knowing that sometimes there is no direct translation for that we are trying to say.

“Twitterpated”—a word to define a person who has fallen so far in love they are almost confused by it – is a word used by my Northern friends and I to describe some of our friends are after returning from a date.

“Jimmies” are a constant craving for my Philly friend; she loves her colourful sprinkles on everything from ice-cream to cookies.

One of my southern dorm-mates is constantly talking about her “Papa-daddy.” Though I was at first afraid she could possibly be involved with a pimp, she later reassured me that her “Papa-daddy” was her grandfather.

As for Canadian terms:

· “Washroom” is a Canadian name for a bathroom or restroom.

· To “razz” someone is to bother someone or joke with them.

· And “poutine” is a Canadian snack: French fries, beef gravy and cheese, all piled in a bowl. This can be bought in Canadian fast-food restaurants like Harvey’s and New York Fries.

If you have any cultural terms that are unique to your area or can relate to my experience, feel free to comment and follow along.

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