This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.
Friday, July 01, 2005
I often find that when I speak English to a non-native speaker, my English accent changes. I find myself using a different set of semantic rules in communications.
Perhaps it's because I've had several "American-English doesn't work here" incidents. Also, the subtleties in English (true in other languages as well) can lead to ambiguities and unintended miscommunications. Consider the following examples.
International crowd discussing a project plan. One person says, "As for the project plan, we are behind". What does he mean? Does he mean that he's behind schedule? Or did he accidently omit the small syllable "it" after the word "behind". Two completely different meanings.
There's a silly old SNL skit about someone who retires from a nuclear power plant. His last instructions to his crew as he leaves, "Remember, you can't put too much water in the reactor." He leaves. The rest of the skit revolves around trying to figure out what he meant.
Korean restuarant in Houston. Katheryn and I wonder if the weekday lunch specials are available on this Memorial Day Monday. We ask, "The lunch specials are not available?". Waitress responds, "yes". There's a brief pause... What does the waitress mean? Standard (American) English takes a positive response to a negative question to mean that, in this case, "yes, the lunch specials are available". In many Asian languages, the response is literal to the question being asked: "yes, the lunch specials are NOT available". This makes me very hungry.