Monday, 4 January 2016

The Subtle Messages in Language

This essay was written as a means of preparing for my year 12 linguistics examination. Language is a truly fascinating phenomenon and I hope you get something from it.

Language is humanity's most common form of communication. Language is expressed in many modes, including written, spoken and signed, which are perhaps the most obvious forms of explicitly conveying information. However, subtle, implicit messages are often conveyed in one's speech. In fact, it is estimated that the main bulk of our entire communications with others comes from our subtle tones, pitch, stresses, prosodic and paralinguistic features. Such features are influenced by our own attitudes towards the person, object or situation to which we are referring to. This phenomenon is an integral part of the linguistic lexical makeup of the English Language.

The words we use contain great power. In the right situation, a speaker with an acute awareness of how to appropriately implement his/her words in a structured format may deliberately use language to express his/her attitude towards others. This can occur in almost all realms of life. Politicians are evident uses of a stylistic variety of language that is structured to be politically correct; being in no way offensive to any population/group. This is essential to a politician's success in any developed, democratic society where popularity can make or break a politician's career. In recent history however, Australia's politicians from the opposing parties have been using insults and dysphemisms to defame or disparage each other. This is the extent politicians will go to for personal gain. The language used by politicians and people in general depends on who the speaker is engaging in discourse with and the purpose of the interaction. When a politician uses language in a disadvantageous manor such as using inaccurate syntax, non-fluent intonation patterns or even lexical choices that may be out of context, they put themselves at a much greater risk of 'de-popularising' themselves in the eyes of the public. This was evident when Julia Gillard assumed the role of Prime Minister in 2010. Her accent was far from being cultivated, putting her at an automatic disadvantage due to the fact that most Australians expect a Prime Minister to sound like a Prime Minister. Tony Abbot suffered a similar linguistic stigma during his time as Prime Minister which would have played a significant role in him being replaced for Malcolm Turnbull, a more cultivated speaker. Speaking with a cultivated accent plays the significant role of communicating to the listener that the speaker is educated and intelligent, and therefore quite capable of assuming a role such as Prime Minister.

The language used in the media speaks volumes about how it wishes the broader Australian population to perceive the situation of refugees and asylum seekers. Often the fact that these people have come to Australia, most often outside the realms of the law, the media's lexical choice when describing these people will consist of negatively connotated terms such as "illegal immigrants" and more informally (mainly on talk shows) "boat people". Practitioners of the religion of Islam are also the targets of this sort of linguistic prejudice. Often without knowing, many long term Australians may speak down (sounding overly polite) to Muslims as they are trying to outwardly appear friendly and polite despite, even though they may not think highly of them. Interestingly enough, Uptalk (rising of intonation) may be used to sound polite, but to the Muslim or Immigrant, it could just come across as patronising. This may reflect prejudice undertones Australia as a nation has had since federation.

Culturally, Australia's attitude towards it's indigenous population has changed greatly over the past two centuries. This of course, is illustrated in the lexical usage in formal modes of English including speeches, official documents and online registration forms. It is also very important to use current politically correct terminology in informal circumstances where the register is casual. For example, 'Australian Aborigines' are often referred to as 'Aboriginal Australians' or 'Indigenous Australians'. It has become taboo to even utter the now informally used shortened version 'Abbo'. This is evident in the censorship of Rolf Harris's famous song 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', from 1963. This song has been shortened by approximately twenty seconds due to the removal of one of its original lines being: "Let me Abbo's go loose, Lou, let me Abbo's go loose. They're of no further use, Lou, so let me Abbo's go loose". Modern Australian society seems to prefer to keep this song as one of its definitive national classics, as long as the now taboo parts are erased to meet current expectations of political correctness.

Spoken language and the forms of written language are an integral part of how we communicate as human beings. Connotations change over time and so does political correctness which dictates the lexical choice of society members. The language we use in all modes of communication can be considered to be an illustration of our current attitudes towards humanities unique phenomenon; language.


  1. Interesting essay Ben. I just like to make a comment specifically on the first point (next to introduction). One thing that does really annoy me is people (westerners) are more focussed and concerned about the word used rather than the key or main messages expressed. Before we evolved to become who we are now (human), we used to communicate without words (language didn't really exist. So we communicated via telepathy ( mind reading), or just reading body language and trying to feel what the messages is, by following our intuition. Speech or speaking (languages) were developed so the messages could we spread in a big group quickly (I.e. public speaking). Now speaking the words out is used in this modern time as a mean for communication whether it is for public audience or just for an individual or a small group (like in a casual conversation). As we used language via communication our ability to communicate telepathy or reading body language (predominantly telepathy) has become weaker and dormant or inactive. Telepathy is still used in this modern time but it's rare and only happens at home. For example identical twins and married couples communicating without words. Well actually this sort of communication is common only for the examples I have given, but it's rare for someone to communicate that way in public places.

    Anyway going back to what I am suppose to speak about if what I have said above is irrelevant to you, I believe that people should be more aware, focused and considerate about the messages people are expressing rather than the words. Reason for that is because focussing too much on the words used can create misunderstanding which that then results in conflict. People should learn to focus the messages of what is being said that way people can understand each other to grow. Understanding is what results in peace and harmony.

    I do agree with what you said that words used does have great power in this modern society, and in this modern time, especially in politics. People may never truly understand each other if they keep taking this approach.

    If I speak publicly I'll get a lot hate since my English is not really perfect.

    1. Thanks for commenting Lxeon. They were not written from my heart like my Martial Art posts. They were written for marks. Regardless, I worked hard to create these essays and I'm grateful that someone else is reading them.

      I agree with you that before we were Humans, spoken language didn't exist. Previously on the evolutionary timeline, we did make more use of body language (or paralinguistics as I refer to them in the essay). However, I didn't know telepathy was such a dominant form of communication. I think wales communicate telepathically and to a lesser extent paralinguisticly. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me. There are clues all around us if we observe animals.

      Spoken language evolved as a tool to enhance the ever increasing prosperity of our species. As a means of communication, spoken language has allowed our species to do incredible things such as spending small amounts of time on the moon.

      Like anything, language has its pros and cons. Don't let your current English skills deter you from saying anything you want to say. There is no such thing as perfect English just as there is no such thing as the perfect Martial Artist. It's very unlikely that you would ever receive hate from speaking publicly. Often, people who speak in a cultivated way are not very popular because they are perceived to be snobby. I do know that in many cases, Australian politicians speak very informally so that they can relate to the majority of the population and hence gain votes. Once in power, they attempt to formalise their English because they will be representing the country on the world stage. It all depends on who their audience is. It can all get a bit complicated and when it does, it reminds me of my Tai Chi instructor saying "We should never have left the trees".

      I want MAU to be a place where people can feel free to speak their mind regardless of their language abilities. It should be a place of growth for all of us. In my opinion, if your language skills are serving you well in your daily circumstances, then your language is already perfect. All language, whether it be telepathic, paralinguistic, written or vocalised, is about communication; not grammatical correctness and so forth. Accurate communication with your audience is all a speaker and or writer needs and I think you do both very well.

  2. Well said my friend thanks for the reply. I didn't know Australian politicians have spoke informally to get votes. I thought all politicians has to be formal to be respected and gain votes. I learnt something new haha.

    However though this may be irrelevant but in America one politician (I don't remember the name, but I think he's from road island) spoke very informally like as if he is one if those typically American football coach, and he lost a lot of votes and respect apparently. my English lecturer gave us a lecture on formality in speech and she bought up that politicians. Personally I liked that politician because he's funny and awesome, but to others who seek formality like my lecturer sees that as being mental or crazy/insane. She reckon we should all be formal as Obama hahaha. Personally though I would rather have people express their messages through their own creative and/or unique or authentic way. Just like an artist that express his messages through creative ways through his/hers art whether that may be zen combative or painting.

    Anyway I'm going off topic again mate, but it's nice to hear that Australian politicians do speak informally to gain creditiblity. It's good to have some authenticity or better creativity in gaining popularity. (Wow, what I wrote there rhymes lol)

    1. Don't worry, nothing is irrelevant. This topic is about language which is phenomenon created by Humanity, not just Australians or Americans for example. The reasons as to why Humans use spoken language is always the same in essence. Like how there are different communal Martial Art expressions like Wing Chun, Hapkido and Karate, that strive to obtaine the essence of the practice, peace. There are different systems of spoken language that strive for communication, like Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I feel that the more knowledge people share, the more rich they become in a sense. So I really appreciate you sharing your experience from your lecturer. Nice rhyme by the way. :)


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