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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Language Culture

Where I live in Arizona is about 90 minutes from Tucson. My writer friends from around the country have been contacting me and asking about the recent tragedy that occurred in my state. In a neighborhood similar to my own.  At a shopping center almost identical to the one I go to every Saturday. With people I could call my neighbors.

How can any speak about this event except to say how terrible, how awful.

And while it appears there is no direct cause and effect relationship between how language is used in contemporary American society and the violence that happens more often than one cares to admit, these kind of events raise important questions.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Does how an idea gets expressed add to or enhance its ultimate meaning?

For example, how many ways are there to say the word no?

Clearly, we understand the fundamental meaning of the word...yet, does how we say it add to--or, for that matter, take away from--its ultimate meaning?

Does the way in which we use language create an environment? That is, do the words we choose--or the ones we choose not to use--help create a language of behavioral expectation? Does the way in which we use tone, inflection, syntax and body language create a culture of language in which our minds "fill in the blanks" of what is not said, but implied?

Does the question then become one of the "expectation of civility"....do those measured tones and careful selections of this word and not that word, this emphasis and not that one, create a language culture wherein the overriding expectation is one where respect is a given?

Following this train of thought, one may conclude that our use of language can co-create culture and that culture can be one in which one feels safe--to think, to talk, to ponder, to disagree. That the ways in which all ideas get expressed and considered in our culture can be transmitted and received without fear of physical, emotional or spiritual threat.

Or not.

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