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Language as an Obstacle to Communication

Updated on April 23, 2015

Language may be an obstacle in certain forms of communication. Ever wonder if you chose the right word, syntax, or even tense of the verb used to expression meaning? Probably not. Many people don't think about this type of issue in day to day conversation or even informal writing such as emails or texts. For that matter there are new ways of communicating shorthand as it were in text and email that only makes sense in the format that they are delivered. Other issues facing communication with our language is the need to use words that seem outdated and victorian in their understanding. Melancholy seems to be the word that comes to mind when I think of this issue. Others may see that our language fails to describe a certain experience to the fullest and we rely on catch words that are vague and board in definition to explain things. This implies that there is a certain relationship between the person communicating a thought and the listener or audience receiving it. Call them the sender and the receiver. Much of this involves language acquisition and development of grammar skills. There happens to be a wide variety of variants to the common English used today.

Think about grammar for a moment and whether or not thought is placed into forming sentences and word choices, which is more vocabulary, in common exchanges. Not many of us use the grammar and vocabulary opportunity in common speech. Imagine if you had to literally think about the grammar and vocabulary in our language to communicate. Many people that learn a foreign language will understand what I am saying by this and it is because more thought is played in conjugating verbs and vocabulary choices when the language isn't the first language spoken. I do this when I write in Spanish and try to speak in it. I think about the words and syntax so that it fits grammatically and that the words are clear in meaning. It is truly evident that there is a distinction when a foreign language is used.

Native English speakers tend to forget all the education they had about the subjunctive clause and the past perfect or even the conditional tense. Much of these grammar issues and verb tenses are more commonly understood in second language learners because there has to be a form to call them. It is so common place in native speakers that many may not even understand the meaning of future perfect unless it was explained to them in English. I think this is an interesting point about language being an obstacle because we, as native speakers have such an inadequate understanding of our own language that it interferes with communication. Does anyone really remember the past participle of to have? Good question right? The reason is because it doesn't come up in common conversations and that we are so used to its use that we fail to understand the technical side of its meaning. Commonality is the theme that helps hinder language.

Common uses and terminology also seems to play a role in language obstacles. Texts and emails have become an ever common way of communicating with each other and to say the least they are abbreviated forms of English. Other common issues has become the mixture of languages or local slangs. Ebonics and Tex-Mex are common slang languages that are common to one group of people and are popular in recent culture. This may be because they were started by a large portion of the population and took off as common ways of communicating within that group. You may look at them as local idioms that formed a new sub-language in common English. While I may not be a professional language scholar I do know a little bit about psycholinguistics and common root etymology of words and grammar.

Development of these new words and grammar structures are important in the understanding of new words. Some new words are added each year to dictionaries and the lexicon of the individual region and country as a whole. Some words like cyberspace or Internet became popular only within certain groups before becoming more mainstream and now essential to communications. It is evident that there are more words and forms of words being developed and even outdated.

While the development of new words is important it is also important to remember that some words are archaic and hold meaning related to things that are outdated and out of synch with today's technology and understanding. One example would be the term mantle. Not many people know what a mantle is anymore. Other words need to be replaced or updated to have relevance in today's world. Words that needed updating were words like word-processing and telephone. Even words like landline are now somewhat antiquated.

We change the meaning of words to meet the needs of the times and this is where some words get trapped in general meanings without context. The word love comes to mind. The word love means many different things depending on the age of the user, the context, the meaning, the audience, the sender and even the reference. I know that seems like a lot but love means something different to a fourteen year old than it does to a fifty year old parent. Also the context in which the word was used could mean that it was meant in a casual sense or a more in depth meaning which two or more people share. The meaning of love may be different depending on all these issues but it may be culturally relevant to a specific group of people and the meaning may not apply to another group within the culture. The audience in which love is used may make the words meaning different than what the sender was meaning it to entail. The sender's statistics may make a difference in the way a word is received. Notice how I used statistics, think of it as demographic information. Even the reference to love is important. If you say there has never been a love like that between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra and the reference isn't understood by the receiver there are going to be some issues in gauging the context of the meaning. That is a lot of information to keep in mind when talking about just a simple word and yet it doesn't always happen.

Think about the adolescent telling their parents a story and the context and terminology is not being understood by the parent. Imagine what kind of frustration that leads to on both sides of the communication spectrum. That is why it is important to understand all these aspects of communication when speaking or writing to someone knew or outside your cultural reference. It is important to take this into account but it is also realistic to say that much of it doesn't happen in common English or in common conversations. Really where you see the bulk of formal communication is in educational settings or work place settings. Even then there is work place culture that dictates "in-house" communication and other forms of communication. Rarely do I see people stopping to think about the context or meaning of their own speech in communicating with others. It truly is an art.

Speaking of art and language it is important to understand that word choice, context, and grammar are all part of the art of communicating. There are great advantages to choosing certain words for the receiver and audience. There is great power that can come from knowing the right terminology and having the right sender send the information to the targeted audience. I know that many people don't think about this but curse words like "fuck" and "shit" sound completely different coming out of the mouth of a peer group member than out of the mouth of a learned scholar. It seems strange to mention that but many of you know what I am speaking of and we all know what the meaning of those words are and the power that they hold. Much of the power is related to the sense that they are some how vulgar and come from either gross acts or sexual acts. However both words may also mean something completely different to a group of people thinking that something was awesome or out of this world. It all depends on the context and the sender's meaning.

It wouldn't be fair to mention language as an obstacle without mentioning that much of the obstacle lies in the person delivering and receiving the information and I don't mean that in a negative sense. See how I have to correct what I said before continuing as to not offend anyone. Nevertheless, I would continue by saying that we all carry with us certain understandings based on personal biases and meanings outside the general meanings of words. For example love may mean something completely different depending on who is speaking about it and what their experiences are. If all someone knows about love is that it hurts, what sort of context is love going to be framed in? See what I am saying? I know same can be true of fear. If everyone has a general understanding about fear except one person associates it with a certain act or behavior then the frame of reference is asked and further exploration should be explored.

Either way we look at the idea of language we can see that there are obstacles in communication all around us. Think about the use of grammar and vocabulary next time you are in a situation that the sender and receiver may not be on equal grounds. Think about the context and references used within communication and think about ways to improve them. I would challenge people to think about a few more things.

1. Is thinking possible without language?

2. What would communication look like without language knowing that language is any form of communication?

3. How would you describe something that hasn't been named yet?


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    • Steven Lindquist profile image

      Steven Philip Lindquist and aliases in nature 19 months ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota United [divided] States of the Americas

      I said, that it never matters if the entire projection of life is the creation of the time before all, was then. It is ALL learning and that is not judged by my mouth, that the planet alive was not judged in chaos was creation of the Sun and all the lights that ever was in the cascading life of lights. That once it was a nest, it the seeds of energy and beings used their tools to name the light and energy was the gift, the gift of their lost, then made real whole again.