ABOUT USE OF LANGUAGE

 A few miscellaneous thoughts. Language is a reflection of beliefs.  It reflects not only what we think but who we are.  Directly and indirectly.  It communicates via the content of the words and the style of delivery – the tone and selection of words.  It communicates via the lack of words and how that is delivered.  The delivery is received differently depending on the recipient.  Yup, it takes awareness to communicate effectively.  The same words ring differently depending on a wide range of different circumstances.

 When I was younger (a child), I remember feeling rebellious and wanting to assert myself by using “bad” words.  In my childlike rebellion I wrote out all the bad words I knew and took pride in using them (but not in front of my parents J).  Later, during my hippie days, I started noticing how everyone seemed to speak in the same way (fuck being used literally every other word).  It hit me that in spite of all the talk about questioning authority and “doing our own thing” very few really did think (or speak) for themselves.  It seemed to me that a new “authority” had defined itself and we were all supposed to just fall behind it!!

So, I became the rebel’s rebel.  I came up with specific times when it seemed good and right to use the “swear” words and I decided to change how I spoke by following my own plan for myself.  That was:  I’d use any words I wanted when I was angry or had some strong feelings that I wanted to express … and I’d use whatever styles of speaking I needed as a way to communicate  respect to someone as in:  ‘I’m with you – we’re the same….”  and… I’d use whatever language I needed to make someone feel comfortable.  I’d just use the best wording I knew to express whatever it was I was trying to express…  I figured out that if you only spoke in one way, then it was harder to relate to a variety of people in different situations and I didn’t want to be defined so narrowly or constrained.  And, I figured out that it’s pretty hard to feel “loving” and be “loving” when you are using the “hard” words….

That has worked well for me for a long time. Being a language major in college I have always been aware of and appreciative of and sensitive to the different rhythms and cadences of language in different cultures and sub-cultures.  When I lived for a while in Virginia I fell naturally into speaking with a soft southern accent.  I liked it.  When I had my export / import business, my Russian friends and I used to really enjoy playing with the language differences.  I took Russian classes but didn’t get too good at the language because I was too busy working the business.  I loved to insert little Russian phrases into our conversations and to speak English with a slight Russian intonation.  To me it was fun and my Russain friends saw my interest in their language as a compliment.   I remember one day we were sitting around the kitchen table and comparing how each language makes the animal noises.  Like… we say moooooo for cow and they say ??????  I forget how they say all the animal noises now but I remember almost rolling on the floor with laughter as we each make each others animal noises… Frog noises were especially funny.  JJ

It makes me sad to acknowledge that the legacy of slavery and racism in this country has created a situation where I can’t do what I have always done with is to honor and respect the people I am with by embracing the sounds and phrases of their language.  I’m very aware of all the negative implications of a white person “talking black” (for some…).  Rather than risk offending anyone, I just don’t do it.  Since I spent a lot of time with black people, it felt unnatural for me to be so rigid in my language.  All people influence each other when they speak.  It’s just the way humans are.  (Historically, the notion of race only occurred to people when one group chose to attempt to dominate another group.  Otherwise, race is a specious [made-up] notion as opposed to culture which is something actual and real.  There is even no biological basis for the notion of race.  Again, it only exists to categorize people into groupings meant to promote someone’s social goal… )  But, because of all the pain around past and present injustices, what is natural becomes a problem.  That is sad to me.  Those shared tones and cadences and intonations and phrases is what bonds people together.  But racism blocks even the most natural bonding even when real love and respect exists.  Yes, that is sad but I can’t ignore the reality of the pain.  I want whatever I do to lessen the pain, not worsen it.  So, that’s that. 
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2 responses to “ABOUT USE OF LANGUAGE”

  1. ShimonZ says :

    I like much of what you wrote in this post. And I agree with you on language. But I think you’re wrong about race. You live in a country where two races have been in imbalance for a long time… and there’s been a lot of hatred and mistrust surrounding the issue of race. Moreover, both races have really been part of the same culture… and even if there are sub-cultures, there is a lot of connections. But I think that often a race has an individual personality, just like many cultures… and just like many people.

    • leazengage says :

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. One thing that is clear is that with the history of hurtful behavior between groups, there is a wide range of strong feelings about the subject of race. I am often able to understand much within that range and consciously choose to take actions that I hope will be the broadest implementation of respectfulness. Thanks again.

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