I have an unconventional theory that when The Most High divided languages after the Tower of Babel it wasn’t just about what we classify as languages today, but also includes division on much deeper level within the same language. Hear me out…
How Are Differences Effect Our Communication
English is my first language. Specifically, American English is my first language. More specifically, Southern American English with influences from “black,” Christian, and nerd culture. I am able to understand people from other parts of the U.S., with different backgrounds and even people from England or Australia. Well, for the most part…
Regional and cultural dialects add flavor to language. Most of the time, dialect is subtle like word pronunciation (e.g., can’t versus “cain’t”). However, dialects can have different vocabulary and grammatical rules, making it a little more tricky to understand.
Most people in the U.S. know that some regions refer to soda and while others call it pop. However where I’m from, people refer to all soda as Coke. This stems from the tendency to refer to things by the most common brand name instead of the generic name—another example would be saying Xerox instead of copy. When I worked in the food industry, it was normal for people to ask “What kind of Coke you got?” and expect to hear about Sprite and Fanta in addition to Diet and Regular Coke, or even Pepsi products. I watch coworkers who weren’t from the area struggle with this.
Along with singular words, there are phrases or idioms that can be part of a dialect as well. I’ve gotten strange looks for many of my Southern phrases—like “knee high to a grasshopper”—when working with people from different areas or living outside the region.
Most of the time we can explain these different nuances because so much of the language is similar, though it does slow the conversation down.
Culture is another way to add flavor to language (and can overlap with dialect). Culture is like putting sugar in your spaghetti sauce (which I’m told is common within my own community but I’ve never done it). Anyone who sees or tastes the sauce will know what it is, but they might have varying opinions about its quality. You can also think about it like connotation.
As a black person I’ve come to associate the acronym POC to mean people (or person) of color. As a software engineer I have to remind myself when I come across this acronym they mean proof of concept. When I get an email that says “I don’t like the POC” or “This POC isn’t right for the company,” there’s always a split second where I’m appalled and then have to remind myself they’re using the latter definition.
Some cultural nuances can be remembered, understood, and tucked away for retrieval under the right context. This is basically the heart of code switching. However, there are some cultural nuances that we don’t necessarily realize we have. A lot of times these nuances are actually nonverbal. For instance, I noticed when I’m in stores and restaurants, white babies and young children are more likely to stare or point. I have never had a black, Latino, or Asian baby stare at me in public. Culturally, that’s seen as rude and I remember from a young age being taught not to do these things. This explains why it makes me feel uncomfortable and feel like the child hasn’t been taught any manners. These are the types of nuances that develop in to prejudices. We don’t generally break down every interaction; instead whatever we know (culturally) is applied to the situation. Even if I know that something is just cultural it may still bother me. (I’d like to take this moment to apologize to my friends from the middle East whom I’ve shown the sole of my foot to because I forgot and that’s just how I sit.)
One place I see miscommunication the most is in our attempt to love people. I remember once I had some friends text me that they wanted to come over to celebrate my birthday. My birthday was during the middle of the week and I had a meeting for work at like 8 or 9pm (half of my team was in Malaysia 12 hours away so we alternated this meeting to be fair). I explained the meeting and told them if they wanted to stop by real quick before that was fine. They showed up about 10 minutes before the meeting and were upset I didn’t invite them in to stay. They wanted to give me something; that was their way of showing love. I wanted to be able to give them my undivided attention if we were hanging out; my love languages are quality time and acts of service. I didn’t even know they were bothered until the topic came up later.
A lot of times we think other people will see scenarios the way we do but between love language and culture, our thought patterns can be wildly different. Even though we’re speaking the same language, sometimes we have to take time to explain our point of view, expectations, and cultural norms.
References and Footnotes
- I put this in quotations marks because its impossible to define a culture that all black people identify with and perhaps a bit stereotypical to even try. However there is general culture that comes to mind when referencing “black” culture. Some of this stems from Hip Hop and should more accurately be labeled Hip Hop culture, but other aspects predate or exist outside of Hip Hop culture while still being a large part of “black” culture (e.g., “I ain’t one of ya lil’ friends”). In addition to this there are subcultures within blackness that play a role (i.e., Rihanna is Carribbean, Beyonce is Creole, etc.) I am likely descended from the Gullah and when interacting with people who speak Gullah, I find that many words and phrases were common in my family growing up even though we didn’t speak Gullah.
- For more on love languages, checkout .Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Other Episodes This Season