There exist more than one million English words. An average American knows approximately 20000 words and uses about 7500 words every day. It is significant for a person to understand the way language works to be able to communicate with other people. Language involves a set of symbols that help to share meaning. Words and symbols are the same and serve as a means of representing various things. However, it is important to distinguish the word itself from the thing it represents, as they are not the same. People agree to name certain objects with words, but by mutual agreement, meanings also can change. To understand one another while communicating, individuals must have the same set of meanings in their mind. Sometimes, people’s words create barriers. In contradiction to people’s assumptions, other persons do not always understand the meaning of their words. Thus, it is crucial to consider what a particular word means for a person’s conversation partner, as well. Denotative meaning of a word can be found in a dictionary and is rather objective. On the other hand, the connotative meaning is personal and rather subjective.
People have to change the content of dictionaries all the time because new words appear while others can disappear. Due to the development of technologies, Oxford English Dictionary now includes such acronyms as LOL, OMG, and BFF, and a phrase ego surfing. Some words have different meanings in various areas. The meaning of words also depends on a person’s experience. In particular, jargon is a vocabulary of specific terms that are peculiar to certain professions. For example, when doctors talk to one another, patients are unlikely to understand what they mean. The officials ask physicians to use simpler language while talking to their patients. Unlike jargon, slang is an informal vocabulary. It also exists within a particular group of people, and others are unlikely to understand it.
To denote something, people can use several words or phrases. Some of these words are more abstract while others are more concrete. The possibility of choosing between abstract and concrete meanings allows a person to adjust to various situations. Considering that a word can have 20 definitions or even more, sometimes individuals have a difficulty in communicating with one another. Bypassing is miscommunication, which is a situation when people confuse the meanings of other’s words. When persons forget that they are in charge of creating meanings, they tend to disregard reality by replacing it with labels. Therefore, advertising has a profound effect on individuals. For instance, any product with the label McDonald’s tastes better. Furthermore, polarization is the use of the construction either-or, which makes people perceive the information in extremes. Words often predetermine people’s reaction to other individuals or events. In addition, language can be used for manipulation, as attitude is determined by words.
Each individual perceives politically correct language differently. Some individuals think that it is necessary not to offend anyone while others believe that it endangers free speech. Thus, there exists euphemism, which is a pleasant word that replaces the less pleasant one, for example, dehired instead of fired. Some linguists disapprove euphemisms and call them doublespeak, stating that the purpose of such language is to deceive people. Some examples of euphemism include horizontally challenged instead of fat; cosmetically different instead of ugly; differently logical instead of wrong.
Representatives of different cultures, including the dominant culture and co-cultures, use different words. If some concept is significant to a culture, there will be many words to name it. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis includes linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity. This hypothesis is not researched enough; a more contemporary study suggests that when persons learn their mother tongue, they acquire particular habits of thought. Different languages have various rules and thus, they influence people’s thoughts and feelings differently. The differences in cultures often lead to confusion in translation. Some of these confusions can turn out to be rather offensive. Culture also has an impact on communication style. For example, Asians prefer hiding their feelings and true meaning while Westerners tend to speak explicitly. A study suggests that a person can change the way of thinking by changing the way of talking. When a person learns a new language, this person’s worldview alters. The chapter also describes linguistic prejudice or prejudiced language, which aims at offending co-culture and is forbidden by businesses. For instance, there are racial code words, which are racist, but not literally. Another issue discusses is globalization, which spreads English and makes other countries fear that it can lead to the disappearance of their national identity. Moreover, it creates the mixture of languages, such as Spanglish or Denglish.
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Language predetermines the attitudes towards gender and gender roles. It is significant to avoid sexism in language, in other words, it should be gender-free. Nowadays, there is a tendency of using gender-neutral language and avoiding male generics. It is also advisable not to use terms that can devalue a woman, for example, honey or sweetie. Women’s word choice and conversational strategies differ from that of men’s. It can create a kind of a communication barrier between males and females. Gender-lects are peculiarities of men’s and women’s way of speaking. Males and females also prefer discussing different topics.
Finally, words can determine whether a person is more or less self-confident. People who are more determinate while speaking are called powertalkers. Not to cause confusion or even conflict, it is advisable not to use swear words. In the chapter, there is a view that texting makes it habitual for people to use shorter sentences. Texting includes specific language. The anonymity of online communication often causes disregard for ethics.