A recent post, “The Perception Paradox,” raised some thoughts on language and our modern era. We live in a highly connected, and yet highly fractured time. Over the centuries, as democracy has flourished, individual freedoms have grown. With these freedoms come expanding personal perspectives. People have always grouped with those of common interest. As the old cliche’ goes, birds of a feather flock together. As personal perspectives diversify, flocks become smaller and niche’ oriented.
In addition to these personal perspectives and more specialized niches, humanity has embraced technology, which has expanded and diversified at ever accelerating rates. Walter Cronkite, while addressing a graduating audience at the University of South Carolina in the 1980’s, noted that we live in a time where we will experience entire eras within one life. Our great-great-grandparents were born and died during the industrial revolution. Our grandparents were born in the industrial revolution, left it to pass on during the space-age. We have lived in the space-age, the telecommunications age, the information age, and the technology revolution. Entire life schemes come and go before an individual can complete a lifetime. This is something that has never happened before in world history.
Language is a crucial factor, as well as a dividing line. Language binds flocks together. Due to the rapid pace of era-shifting, any given individual may span several different niches. When communicating with others, similar words may be used but may have entirely different meanings. During communication with an individual in one common niche about some unrelated, unshared niche, communication may break down. If a hair dresser asks for a clip, all hair dressers know what is meant. If a tv commercial producer, working for the salon, asks for a clip, the hair dresser might hand the producer a hair clip, when the producer meant a previously produced clip of film or video. The word is the same. The meaning is entirely different, both of them taking meaning from their perspective contexts.
As technology improves, individuals can find themselves doing work previously reserved to specialists of a specific niche’. They may develop their own argot and nomenclature to define what they do in relation to their own perspective. If they then try to communicate with a member from a specialized group, there may be a complete misunderstanding. The first individual refers to their nomenclature, which has an entirely different meaning or no meaning at all to the second individual. They may both refer to the same thing, but they cannot recognize it.
The perception paradox steps in. Each party feels confident they are expressing themselves clearly based on their own perspective and argot, while they each feel that the other individual is talking in tongues. This type of missed communication can lead to confusion and even consternation. Sadly, it might take only a simple example to resolve. As a result, whole new niches have been developed to act as interpreters. Consultants, counselors, even receptions for specialized niches develop the ability to recognize the wide ranges of argot and nomenclature, and in turn interpret information into language understood by other specialists.
Strangely enough, in the modern era when a person says they are multilingual, they may speak only English, but they can speak photography and programming, or graphic design and demographics. While English is the largest language on the planet, it is not necessarily true that a common international language means that two people are speaking with common meaning. They may both be jargon jousting.