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When In Rome, Should
Mainly, you are expected to speak the same language or dialect of the person(s) you're talking to.
- When in Rome, if you can, speak Italian to the locals.
- When in the workplace, use the vocabulary and communication style of your co-workers.
- When in the café or pub, act appropriate to the situation. If people joke and kid one another, join in the fun of the casual banter.
- When visiting other regions of your country, try to pick up bits of the local dialect. Want a soft drink in St. Paul, Minnesota? Ask for "a can of pop," not for "a can of soda."
- When talking at the medical clinic, it's helpful to know the terms for certain procedures, body processes, and medications. As well, it's helpful when the doctor can explain medical matters to you in terms you understand.
However, sometimes it's not appropriate to talk in the local language, dialect or jargon.
|Newcomers who tried to 'talk local' were sometimes resented and excluded|
For example, during my thirty years in Hawaii, I found it was not appropriate for me to talk island dialect ("pidgin") until I had earned the right to use this form by having lived a long time in the islands. Newcomers who would try to "talk local" were sometimes resented and excluded because they hadn't yet earned the right. True locals thought their dialect was being mimicked and made fun of.
Slowly over time I picked up some of the vocabulary terms, grammar, and pronunciation and little by little included bits when talking to pidgin-speakers. (Many people in Hawaii speak two dialects: standard English with a regional accent and also pidgin, which is distinct. They speak the standard for school and business and pidgin among friends and family.)
Because languages, dialects, and certain styles are also used to exclude outsiders, it can be inappropriate, even dangerous, to try to wedge yourself into a new language community when you haven't yet been included. You might be seen as pushy or nosey. This can happen with certain street-language and with gangs.
Some speakers are highly protective of the purity of their native language. The French, for example, often prefer to use their broken English rather than have an English speaker garble the French language.
I have experienced this situation numerous times while traveling and living in France. I usually decided it was easier to put up with a French person's difficult English rather than have him upset by my imperfect French pronunciation.
Sometimes it's just plain silly to use the language styles of certain groups.
For full-grown adults to speak in "teen language" seems as out of place as older adults dressing in teen styles of apparel and hair. To be on a friendly basis with with teens does not require that you act like them in language and expression.
As a young man, I earned my way through college by working in pipeline construction with oil-rig roughnecks from Texas and Oklahoma.
I soon found I'd get along better if I talked more their way, shared their coarse humor, even increased the amount of profanity in my talk. (Also, it served me well to conceal that I was a "college kid" and act as just another one of the laborers.)
For a few years I had the same experience working on the iron ore ships of the Great Lakes. I didn't want to sound too "educated" to fellow workers who had little education. So I did my best to talk like them.
It's useful to be able to speak in various dialects and styles so we can shift our language forms when the situation demands.
People who won't or can't make adjustments cause problems. Professionals who continue to talk to friends and family in the jargon of their work, such as an attorney who uses lots of legal terms or a counselor who speaks in psychological terms, may be seen as "talking down" to others.
We must remember that we sometimes need the agreement of others before we join them in using a special language form. Otherwise, we may be rejected.
For example, some whites who attempt to talk "black dialect" to African- Americans have found they are rudely rejected for presuming to use a language form others do not see as rightfully theirs.
Usually you are appreciated for adjusting to the language and styles of others. But not always. Therefore, it's best check out the situation before assuming you're doing the right thing.
Loren Ekroth © 2005
Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His articles and programs strengthen critical communication skills for business and professional people. Contact him at Loren@conversation-matters.com. Check resources and archived articles at http://www.conversation-matters.com.
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