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Linguistic Empathy & Community Boundaries

Languages are abstractions — they pretend to actually exist, but in reality they are more like amorphous relationships between the language’s speakers (or users). When one person uses a word and another person interprets that word’s meaning, there is no guarantee of absolute congruency — meanings can be laden with all sorts of connotations, there is metaphorical use of terms and so on.

For a language as wide-ranging as English, there are undoubtedly many sub-languages — be that dialects, jargons or simply such variants as colloquial or vulgar language. I am quite certain that I speak differently to almost each and every different person I speak with. For example, the language I would normally start off speaking to a stranger I meet would be to use a rather basic level that I assume everyone would understand much in the same way. I might say “Excuse me”, perhaps ask something like “Can you help me?” and then something like “may I use the restroom?” or “do you know the time?” … and in each case I would expect that in each particular context the meaning would be quite obvious — such that when asking about time, I would normally be referring to the local time.

What is also quite obvious is that in global communications, the concept “local” is quite different. I owe alot of these insights to something I read which was written by a participant @ — several decades ago now. Global communities also have local boundaries — but they are not geographic boundaries. Instead, they are linguistic (or some might say behavioral — and here I would add that language and behavior — and community, too — actually go together).

Of course this post harkens back to (and attempts to build upon) what I already posted in Chapter 7 (“Natural Languages & Linguistic Empathy — a First Essay on the Impact of Phenomena such as Presence, Awareness and Focus on Social Cohesion“), but it also makes a connection to my recent post @ regarding crossing boundaries (see “Propaganda Information Technology vs. Indigena Information Technology — the Basic Idea” [ ] ) and also to another recent post about a very large globally distributed community (namely WordPress — see “Is WordPress losing touch with everyday users?” [ ] ).

For members of any community to be comfortable with their interactions and engagement within the community, they need to feel that they can easily understand each other. Using the same language (or similar enough languages) is a big part of that.


By New Media Works

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