Friday, October 2, 2009

More on Yesterday's Thought

This isn't the post I intended for today. I may get to that one yet, but in a similar train of thought to my original post yesterday, I was talking to a co-worker from India yesterday and he was telling me about his struggles with communication. He said that in his language he speaks very precisely. He chooses the word that means exactly what he means, but in English he is force to use simple terms that are less precise, making him feel that he appears dumb.

He gave as an example, the word thanks. In English, thanks can be used when speaking to anyone from the lowest bum to God himself. We would use it to show our appreciation for anything from a person holding the elevator for us to giving us a house. Apparently, his language works differently. There are different words they use that may apply to one situation but not another. I don't have all the details and I don't intend to turn this post into a lesson on his language.

As I listened to him, myself struggling to understand his broken English, I began to consider why he considers English to be less precise, but I told him that English handles precision differently. Yes, thanks can apply to many situations, but we often apply precision by applying modifying terms. If someone does something pedestrian and we want to show that we recognize their contribution, we might say, "thanks." If we appreciate something a lot, we might say, "thank you very much." If someone does something or gives us something that we consider to be of great value to us, we might say, "Thank you. I can't tell you how much this means to me."

The way we say it can imply meaning as well. Saying "Thanks!" means something far different than saying "thanks" with an icy tone in our voice. One means, I appreciate that, while the other means, I could have done without you saying that. In fact, the tone with which we say word in spoken English is so important that the came phrases in written English can lose their meaning or lead someone to believe someone is saying one thing when he means another. As writers, we are somewhat handicapped because of that. Even so, English provides the capability to express what we mean very precisely, if we know how to use it.

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