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22 December 2007

Do You Understand The Words Coming Out of My Mouth?

Communication can be so fragile ...

Did you know that there are nearly 7000 established languages in the world. And that does not account the lesser documented languages and their dialects such as:

  • language between a parent and an infant
  • language (non verbal) between a doubtful parent and a mischievous teen
  • language between idiots, that only fellow idiots understand
  • language using one's hands, such as in traffic to, you know, signal another driver
  • language between spouses to signal "hey, let's blow this taco stand", when they have overstayed a party

Needless to say, the mere fact that we are able to communicate at all is a miracle, much less understand each other.

Some miscommunication occurs as a tendency to trip over our words, like in my earlier post titled "P for Hours" (click the title to be transported there). Make sure to read Jeff's story in the comment section ... funny stuff!

Some miscommunication occurs because we are speaking one one level, like adult-with-common-sense-speaking-clearly and the listener is listening in another level, like idiot-who-does-not-comprehend-common-sense-or-clarity. Why, if I had a dollar for every time.....

Some miscommunication occurs because one of us speaks in a complete sentence and another listens in a fragment. I read somewhere that students, including adult learners, only absorb a meager 25% of what we teach. Depressing, really. A common example this time of year would be:

"Emily, we will get you another rat....when you bring up your ____ grade to a level where we can all be happy."

It doesn't take a linguist or learning specialist to tell us which part of the sentence gets latched onto and which part gets ignored like yesterday's news.

Out of the thousands of languages, guess where English falls in terms of numbers of people who speak it? If you picked 3rd, then give yourself a dictionary and a pat on the back. Over 300 million mouths presumably know how to say finger lickin' good in English. But that is nothing compared to Mandarin Chinese (nearly 900 million people!), followed by Spanish (also over 300 million, with most of those now presumably in or headed to the United States).

So these holidays, when you are yelling for cousin Shmelvin's buddy who came up with him from Snake Eye, Tennessee to pass the Sweet Potato Casserole, keep in mind that he may think you are actually trying to flirt with him.

Communication can be soooo fragile.


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