What is language?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/communication-for-business-success/s06-delivering-your-message.html

2.1 What Is Language?

Are you reading this sentence? Does it make sense to you? When you read the words I wrote, what do you hear? A voice in your head? Words across the internal screen of your mind? If it makes sense, then you may very well hear the voice of the author as you read along, finding meaning in these arbitrary symbols packaged in discrete units called words. The words themselves have no meaning except that which you give them.

For example, I’ll write the word “home,” placing it in quotation marks to denote its separation from the rest of this sentence. When you read that word, what comes to mind for you? A specific place? Perhaps a building that could also be called a house? Images of people or another time? “Home,” like “love” and many other words, is quite individual and open to interpretation.

Still, even though your mental image of home may be quite distinct from mine, we can communicate effectively. You understand that each sentence has a subject and verb, and a certain pattern of word order, even though you might not be consciously aware of that knowledge. You weren’t born speaking or writing, but you mastered—or, more accurately, are still mastering as we all are—these important skills of self-expression. The family, group, or community wherein you were raised taught you the code. The code came in many forms. When do you say “please” or “thank you,” and when do you remain silent? When is it appropriate to communicate? If it is appropriate, what are the expectations and how do you accomplish it? You know because you understand the code.

We often call this code “language”: a system of symbols, words, and/or gestures used to communicate meaning. Does everyone on earth speak the same language? Obviously, no. People are raised in different cultures, with different values, beliefs, customs, and different languages to express those cultural attributes. Even people who speak the same language, like speakers of English in London, New Delhi, or Cleveland, speak and interact using their own words that are community-defined, self-defined, and have room for interpretation. Within the United States, depending on the context and environment, you may hear colorful sayings that are quite regional, and may notice an accent, pace, or tone of communication that is distinct from your own. This variation in our use of language is a creative way to form relationships and communities, but can also lead to miscommunication.

Words themselves, then, actually hold no meaning. It takes you and me to use them to give them life and purpose. Even if we say that the dictionary is the repository of meaning, the repository itself has no meaning without you or me to read, interpret, and use its contents. Words change meaning over time. “Nice” once meant overly particular or fastidious; today it means pleasant or agreeable. “Gay” once meant happy or carefree; today it refers to homosexuality. The dictionary entry for the meaning of a word changes because we change how, when, and why we use the word, not the other way around. Do you know every word in the dictionary? Does anyone? Even if someone did, there are many possible meanings of the words we exchange, and these multiple meanings can lead to miscommunication.

Business communication veterans often tell the story of a company that received an order of machine parts from a new vendor. When they opened the shipment, they found that it contained a small plastic bag into which the vendor had put several of the parts. When asked what the bag was for, the vendor explained, “Your contract stated a thousand units, with maximum 2 percent defective. We produced the defective units and put them in the bag for you.” If you were the one 

reading that contract, what would “defective” mean to you? We may use a word intending to communicate one idea only to have a coworker miss our meaning entirely.

Sometimes we want our meaning to be crystal clear, and at other times, less so. We may even want to present an idea from a specific perspective, one that shows our company or business in a positive light. This may reflect our intentional manipulation of language to influence meaning, as in choosing to describe a car as “preowned” or an investment as a “unique value proposition.” We may also influence other’s understanding of our words in unintentional ways, from failing to anticipate their response, to ignoring the possible impact of our word choice.

Languages are living exchange systems of meaning, and are bound by context. If you are assigned to a team that coordinates with suppliers from Shanghai, China, and a sales staff in Dubuque, Iowa, you may encounter terms from both groups that influence your team.

As long as there have been languages and interactions between the people who speak them, languages have borrowed words (or, more accurately, adopted—for they seldom give them back). Think of the words “boomerang,” “limousine,” or “pajama”; do you know which languages they come from? Did you know that “algebra” comes from the Arabic word “al-jabr,” meaning “restoration”?

Does the word “moco” make sense to you? It may not, but perhaps you recognize it as the name chosen by Nissan for one of its cars. “Moco” makes sense to both Japanese and Spanish speakers, but with quite different meanings. The letters come together to form an arbitrary word that refers to the thought or idea of the thing in the semantic triangle.

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Source: Adapted from Ogden and Richards.Odgen, C., & Richards, I. (1932). The meaning of meaning: A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & World.

This triangle illustrates how the word (which is really nothing more than a combination of four letters) refers to the thought, which then refers to the thing itself. Who decides what “moco” means? To the Japanese, it may mean “cool design,” or even “best friend,” and may be an apt name for a small, cute car, but to a Spanish speaker, it means “booger” or “snot”—not a very appealing name for a car.

Each letter stands for a sound, and when they come together in a specific way, the sounds they represent when spoken express the “word” that symbolizes the event.McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. For our discussion, the key word we need to address is “symbolizes.” The word stands in for the actual event, but is not the thing itself. The meaning we associate with it may not be what we intended. For example, when Honda was contemplating the introduction of the Honda Fit, another small car, they considered the name “Fitta” for use in Europe. As the story goes, the Swedish Division Office of Honda explained that “fitta” in Swedish is a derogatory term for female reproductive organ. The name was promptly changed to “Jazz.”

The meaning, according to Hayakawa,Hayakawa, S. I. (1978). Language in thought and action. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. is within us, and the word serves as a link to meaning. What will your words represent to the listener? Will your use of a professional term enhance your credibility and be more precise with a knowledgeable audience, or will you confuse them?

NL Zoetermeer, 12-06-2019

About Professor C.J.M. Beniers


Prof. C.J.M. Beniers is a well known authority in the field of modern and international communication techniques. He developed the Six-Component-Model. This model enables companies, institutions and politicians to communicate and negotiate with counterparts from all over the world successfully. His career began as international manager at Philips and later he earned his doctorate as professor in communication. He has more than 35 years experience as manager and management trainer. Thus he knows both sides – theory and praxis – very well. As scientist, Prof. Beniers conducts frequently research in the field of intercultural communication. The results of his interesting research can be found in news articles, free pod casts, audio books and his E-books such as “Bridging The Cultural Gap.” Here, modern managers learn how to prepare for business meetings with people from different cultures; they acquire the techniques and tools to handle situations in times of crises successfully, master intercultural barriers, country-specific communication patterns, looking into personal cultural values & systems. Knowing all this, men can prevent cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – not only in business but also in private life.

 

Some Sources of Misunderstandings in Intercultural Business Communication-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Sources of Misunderstandings in Intercultural Business Communication-1 1)

T. Lázár
University of Debrecen Faculty of Economics and Business, lazar.timea@econ.unideb.hu

Abstract. It is always a big challenge for all types of companies anywhere in the world to survive in the globalised and accelerated world. Their primary objective is to stay competitive, keep or even enlarge their market share while keeping their costs at a minimum level. These corporations often cross borders and operate on a multinational level. In order to do that successfully they need flexible workforce: people who have a high level of intercultural competencies and can help their corporations to achieve their aim of profit maximising. It is widely accepted that culture and languages are among the most significant impacts on intercultural communication. In this paper first I am going to interpret intercultural communication and the role of culture and then look at different intercultural skills and the role of languages in intercultural communication. Some areas that might cause problems in intercultural business communication will also be described.

Introduction

In order for any company to survive in our globalised and accelerated world, a multitude of challenges must be faced on a daily basis. A company’s primary objective is to stay competitive;to retain or even enlarge market share while keeping costs at a minimum. Indeed, a company can be competitive only by reinventing itself, through the use of new forms of business, by forming alliances to cut costs and by enlarging the customer base. In the business world, change happens so fast that companies must be flexible and able to adapt at all times. In some cases, business organisations are forced to cross borders and operate on a multinational level. In order to succeed, they need flexible workforces, i.e. people who have intercultural competencies and capable of assisting them to achieve their business objectives [36]. Business communication in such organisations must accommodate workers coming from different cultural backgrounds, possessing intercultural communication skills which allow them to act successfully on the international level. Such employees either work in multinational teams, take part in multinational business meetings and negotiations or go on assignments to other countries. Proper knowledge of the cultures and foreign languages such employees will meet and use will shape the ways in which they either master or fail in their intercultural communication situations [38]. In this paper, I discuss intercultural communication and the role of culture, examining different intercultural skills and the role of languages in intercultural communication. I also describe specific areas that cause problems in intercultural business communication.

1) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317999851_Some_Sources_of_Misunderstandings_in_Intercultural_Business_Communication

About Professor C.J.M. Beniers


Prof. C.J.M. Beniers is a well known authority in the field of modern and international communication techniques. He developed the Six-Component-Model. This model enables companies, institutions and politicians to communicate and negotiate with counterparts from all over the world successfully. His career began as international manager at Philips and later he earned his doctorate as professor in communication. He has more than 35 years experience as manager and management trainer. Thus he knows both sides – theory and praxis – very well. As scientist, Prof. Beniers conducts frequently research in the field of intercultural communication. The results of his interesting research can be found in news articles, free pod casts, audio books and his E-books such as “Bridging The Cultural Gap.” Here, modern managers learn how to prepare for business meetings with people from different cultures; they acquire the techniques and tools to handle situations in times of crises successfully, master intercultural barriers, country-specific communication patterns, looking into personal cultural values & systems. Knowing all this, men can prevent cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – not only in business but also in private life.

Zoetermeer, 10-01-2019

How to Design Websites that Communicate Across Culture

How to Design Websites that Communicate Across Culture[1]

 There’s nothing as exciting as the theoretical possibility of reaching tens of millions of people all over the world with one single website.

In reality, chances are that, apart from some global phenomenon, most websites appeal to some countries but don’t appeal to others. Is there a way to create a website which appeals to all these different countries?

The answer is yes. At the very least, there are some basic rules to follow, which will help enhance your website’s chances of attracting readers who speak different languages.

 

1. Define your Website

The worst mistake any content provider can make is to enter different markets with a product which doesn’t have a straightforward personality and hence, doesn’t deliver a clear message. If it doesn’t come across very quickly, that is, what your website is about, it’s quite unlikely that Internet readers from foreign countries will take the time to try to understand it. They will probably just quickly hit the “back” button. As soon as a visitor lands on your website, he/she must be put in the condition of realizing the essence of the website within a mere 30 seconds.

 

2. Define Your Target Markets

Once you know well what your product is, decide which markets to target. If your website is dedicated to French wine or Persian carpets, market research will provide you with precious information like which country your potential readers would be from. Or you can even go in as a pioneer, choosing to enter a market which is traditionally not very receptive to your type of content/product, but make sure that it is an educated risk that you are taking.

 

3. Keep the Language as Simple as Possible

The simpler the language you use on your website, the easier it is to be understood by an international audience. This point applies both to websites in just one language (English, most of the time) or to multi-lingual websites. Straightforward, non-idiomatic English that are not full of lingo or word play will be more accessible to an audience that does not have English as its first or second language. Even in the case of a website which provides multi-lingual versions of the content, a text written in plain English will be translated more easily, and at a lower cost.

 

4. Choose the Right Design

Design implies culture. To get a very quick idea of this simple statement, surf through the different versions of websites of multi-national brands such as the electronics company, Philips. The Dutch website shows a big picture of a northern landscape with soft colours and the presence of a middle-aged man pushing a bike in a park with a relaxed smile on his face: the message is one of tranquillity and a sense of wellbeing.

On the contrary, the Japanese version features two small Facebook icons on either side of the screen and a small central picture with a young Asian man wearing a white shirt and tie, holding an electric razor in a pose which communicates urban dynamism, determination and tight schedules.

 

5. Choose the Right Color

The choice of the right colour for a website is an important matter. We all know very well how colors can influence our instinctive reaction to places, products, even people. We know very well that, for example, many banks choose a blue background for their brand because it communicates a sense of trust. At the same time, we wouldn’t paint our bedroom black or bright red because we are aware that these are not colours which help us to relax, to say the least.

But when it comes to designing a website which has to tackle international markets, there are more considerations to be take in. Different colours have different meanings to different cultures. For example, while black in western countries is a sign of death, evil and mourning, in China it is the colour of young boys’ clothes. On the other hand, while white in Western culture represents marriage, peace, and medical help or hospitals, in China it stands for death and mourning. So, picking the right colour is not just a matter of appearance, it’s a matter of implicit messages and content.

 

6. Translation and Lengths

Targeting other countries with your website very often means providing your content in at least one other language.

In this case there are a number of important choices to make. The first and possibly the most important one, regards the type of translation: electronic versus human translator. The first choice comes with two great advantages: it’s quick and it’s free. Just download Google Chrome, a browser which features a built-in translation bar at the top of the page, and click “Translate”. The drawback, however, is that mistakes and involuntary humour are a concrete risk. A (good) translator rules out these problems but might affect your costing.

However, there are less expensive options, such as the freelance portals www.peopleperhour.com or the translation website www.proz.com which offer translating peoples at competitive prices. Another possible solution is to start translating only some parts of your website into the second language, keeping the rest in your main language.

In any case, don’t forget that when content is translated into another language, the length of the text changes. So, keeping text separate from graphics is always a very wise move. For this purpose, I strongly recommend using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which allow the content to be kept separate from page design, and Unicode, the program with which you can switch between over 90 languages and thousands of characters.

A last consideration not to be overlooked is that not every country or every region has a fast broadband connection, so reducing the usage of Flash and heavy graphics to a minimum is recommended.

 

7. Promote your Website Locally

Social media is still the cheapest way to promote a website, but when your target is another country you might be surprised to find out that there are other options besides Facebook and Twitter.

In fact, there are many national top social platforms in various countries which you can use to promote your website on. Take your pick from the world map of Social Networks.

 

8. Mind your Tone

Just one more final small suggestion about communication. Apart from the actual languages, different cultures often use a different tone. An American website is very likely to use a much more approachable and direct style than an Arab or Japanese one.

Since you never know how different people from other countries could react to being addressed too informally, a good way to keep on the safe side is definitely to always be polite and respectful.

 

Conclusion

Keep in mind all of the above-mentioned points and your international adventure will start off on the right foot. When dealing with cross-cultural products, always try to walk in your client’s shoes and be sensitive of their views.

 

Editor’s note: This post is written by Christian Arno for Hongkiat.com. Christian is the founder of Lingo24, a multi-million dollar international translation and localization company with more than a hundred employees in over 60 countries.

 

 



[1] http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/design-websites-that-communicate-across-cultures/

 

About Professor C.J.M. Beniers


Prof. C.J.M. Beniers is a well known authority in the field of modern and international communication techniques. He developed the Six-Component-Model. This model enables companies, institutions and politicians to communicate and negotiate with counterparts from all over the world successfully. His career began as international manager at Philips and later he earned his doctorate as professor in communication. He has more than 35 years experience as manager and management trainer. Thus he knows both sides – theory and praxis – very well. As scientist, Prof. Beniers conducts frequently research in the field of intercultural communication. The results of his interesting research can be found in news articles, free pod casts, audio books and his E-books such as “Bridging The Cultural Gap.” Here, modern managers learn how to prepare for business meetings with people from different cultures; they acquire the techniques and tools to handle situations in times of crises successfully, master intercultural barriers, country-specific communication patterns, looking into personal cultural values & systems. Knowing all this, men can prevent cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – not only in business but also in private life.

29-11-2016

Email: beniers@mac.com

 

 

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