What is language?

This week in our discussion board I’d like you to consider the following question –

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What is language?

Broadly we understand that language is “an expression of our identity.” Pause just a second and think about some of your daily activities which require you to use language.

I chat with my husband daily, I have two different friends that I walk with regularly – one is in her twenties the other in her fifties, I go to the grocery store once a week, I FaceTime with my older sister once a week and with my other siblings monthly, I even ZOOM with my family members (nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, and my siblings) once a month to check in.  Each encounter requires me to use language in different ways. 

I couldn’t do these events without language and it’s fascinating how my communication with each person and in different setting shifts to meet the needs of the individual I am communicating with. From this I must understand that language provides social interaction. 

These interactions serve to offer me social cohesion or a ‘shared vocabulary’ with my family, friends and other kinship group members. 

Language also provides a means to express my identity as a sister, an aunt, a wife, a friend… it allows me the ability to express my loyalty to my country “I am from the United States,” to my academic position “I am a college professor,” or even to my region “I live in California”. Each affiliation is constructed via language. 

Ironically, while language is a SHARED FORM OF IDENTITY – as the book states. “it can become a divisive force when people identify too strongly with their native tongue, become ethnocentric, and feel threatened by someone speaking a different language.” (p. 269). 

Having lived in different cities/states over the course of my life I’ve become very aware that language provides social interaction, social cohesion and an expression of my identity. I remember the struggle I felt with these concepts when I travelled to Australia first in 2012 and for a longer stay in 2014.

During my more extensive time I lived in Australia for over 3 months as a visiting faculty member at Queensland University of Technology [QUT]. I had no family around, the time difference made it difficult to talk with friends and family in the U.S. I remember how out of sorts I felt during the first few weeks. I was extremely aware that even though the Australians spoke ‘English’ there were many breakdowns in communication. For instance, ordering my regular morning cup of coffee wasn’t simple… what the heck was a ‘cuppa’? Or catching the train – which I did everyday while living in Boston came with a whole new set of rules.

I was mindful enough to realize that I felt out of sorts and interestingly I begin to take photos of ways that language was present but not familiar to me.

A friend even purchased me this Australian dictionary of words/terms so I could recognize that not only was the dialect unique but there were different slang words or idioms that were not familiar to me. 

This week as you read chapter 8 on Verbal Messages I’d like you to talk with each other about “how language is an integral part of your identity.’ After that consider how you had to adjust your language for different environments or settings; like travel to another region or country, or being with individuals who are not familiar with your community and/or family mores, or even in the classroom environment when the majority of the group spoke a different language than yourself.

How did you adjust?

What made it difficult to adjust?

How did you become comfortable in the space? Please share your stories and experiences with your peers. 

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