Tag Archives: language learning

“I” vs. “We”: A Linguistic Perspective on the Super Bowl

“I” vs. “We”: A Linguistic Perspective on the Super Bowl

By: Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.

 

“Oh no, not again!”

“Why do professors insist on these things?”

“Another one…I’ve already got two in my other classes!”

 

Statements like these, followed by lots of heartfelt groans, were the usual reaction to my announcing that we were about to embark on group project time in the classes that I taught. Students in my classrooms loathed the idea of working in groups. They believed it was more trouble than it was worth and that one of the group members, usually themselves, would end up doing all the work. Working as a team was not high on their priority list. How did they develop this attitude? I think language and culture have a lot to do with it. As one of the biggest American spectacles of team interaction (The Super Bowl) is around the corner, let’s take a closer look at the way that our languages suggest cultures of independence or interdependence.

 

There is a saying in American sports that there is no “I” in team. While that may be true in some cases, American’s use of English does not often convey that message. In U.S. culture we are quick to talk about how the decision at hand might impact us as individuals. “That

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meeting time won’t work for me.” “I won’t be able to finish my part before the deadline if s/he doesn’t get me the data in time.” “I can’t catch the ball if he doesn’t throw it to the target.” We are very good at blaming others and denying any fault of our own.

 

I used to hear that kind of talk all the time as a university professor. “Teacher, so-and-so is not doing the work.” “I’m the one doing all the work and I don’t think that is right.” It didn’t matter if I was working at a stateside university or one in Puerto Rico, such comments were rampant. All the focus was on the “I” even though the students were working on group projects. No one seemed interested in trying to work through the issues to bring the group closer together. They would have rather given up than try to make it work. This characteristic is truly representative of an independent, individualistic culture.

 

Outside of the strongly independent Western World, there is more emphasis on working together. Many Asian, African, and Latin American cultures are built on the idea that “two heads are better than one.” They look to the group for the support needed as individuals and truly work together to complete the task, being sure not to leave any one person open

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to scrutiny. If someone is not fulfilling their role in the group, the rest of the group encourages that person to get more involved so they can reach the group or team goal together. The group is more important than any one person and all are needed to complete the task.

 

Avoiding the he said/she said-style finger pointing of individualistic cultures typically allows people in collectivistic cultures to work together more smoothly. There is no need to point out the failures or get upset over the lack of participation of one teammate. Rather, the emphasis is on building up the group as a whole. Proverbs from these regions support this concept. The Japanese, for instance, have a saying that “a single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.” The language of Ethiopia offers this proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” Again, the emphasis is on cooperation and teamwork.

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As the Super Bowl approaches, I will refrain from asking you who you think will win. Instead, I will ask you to pay attention to the media messages leading up to the big game. What questions do the reporters ask of the players and coaches? How do the players and coaches respond? Is there really a sense of team present or is any one player out to “get his own?”

 

Like it or not, thousands of young people, perhaps even your children, watch these games and learn a language from these famous players. Help them unpack those messages instead of swallowing them whole. Point out how many hands hold the trophy during the ceremony. Have them listen carefully to what the players say post-game. Do the players think any one player had more of an impact than others? Help them understand that there are benefits to both independence and interdependence. Teach them to recognize that asking for help is not a bad thing, while also encouraging them to strive toward their personal goals. Allow them to develop a language of inclusivity that gives them skills for working in both contexts. Having both skillsets will help them achieve success in our global society.

 

cropped-GP-Logo1.jpgFor further insight into the fascinating world of intercultural communication, contact Global Perceptions, your relocation and communication consulting specialists in Puerto Rico! 

 

This post was added to the #MyGlobalLife Linkup at Small Planet Studio.

Linguistic hierarchy: How language shows respect

Linguistic hierarchy: How language shows respect

By Jennifer Alvarez and Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.

 

Learning a second language is not only about learning vocabulary and sentence structure. It is also about learning culture. In this post, we talk about forms of respect inherent in different languages. While some cultures are more hierarchical in nature, others are less hierarchical, and their languages reflect those differences. We have taken examples from English, French, Spanish, and Japanese to demonstrate these concepts. While reading, consider the words you use in everyday life. Think about how your native language compares and then ask yourself two important questions: 1) how does your native language reflect hierarchy and 2) what does that say about the importance (or lack thereof) of hierarchy in your native culture?

 

2013-07-13 15.54.04Let’s begin with English! English spoken in the Southern region of the United States shows respect when speaking to others in positions of authority or elders by using Sir (for men) or Ma’am (for women). People in the Northern United States tend to use the terms Mr. or Mrs. in front of the person’s last name instead. However, referring to people simply by their first name has become the norm throughout much of the U.S.

 

           Hello (formal): Hello, ma’am or sir/Mr. Smith.

           Hello (informal): Hello.

 

           You’re welcome (formal): You are welcome, ma’am or sir/Mrs. Smith.

           You’re welcome (informal): You’re welcome.

 

           How are you? (formal): How are you, ma’am or sir?

           How are you? (informal): How are you?

 

The French language also distinguishes between formal and informal settings, showing respect for strangers, those in positions of authority, and elders. The “tu” form is used in informal situations, while speakers use “vous” to refer to people in formal settings. Both mean “you,” but “vous” shows a deeper level of respect for your conversational counterpart. Both the subject pronoun and the verb change to reflect this. Below are a few examples of everyday phrases in both a formal and informal setting in French.

 

          IMG_2184Please (formal): S’il vous plait.

Please (informal): S’il te plait.

 

What is your name? (formal): Comment vous appelez-vous?

What is your name? (informal): Comment t’appelles tu?

 

How are you? (formal): Comment allez-vous?

How are you? (informal): Ça va?

 

A fellow Latin-based romance language, Spanish, like French, differentiates between a formal “you” and an informal “you.” When in an informal setting, such as with friends or family, use the “tu” form. When speaking to strangers, someone in a higher position such as a manager, as well as older adults, use “usted.”  Again, note that the verb ending is also different to reflect the change in subject use. Some everyday phrases that are used in the Spanish language are listed below to show both formal and informal usage.

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How are you? (formal):  ¿Cómo está usted?

How are you? (informal): ¿Cómo tú estás?

 

What is your name? (formal):  ¿Cómo se llama usted? OR ¿Cuál es su nombre?

What is your name? (informal): ¿Cómo te llamas? OR ¿Cuál es tu nombre?

 

Where are you from? (formal):  ¿De dónde es usted?

Where are you from? (informal): ¿De dónde tú eres?

 

Japanese has two types of “respect languages.” The context of the situation and the identity of the person to whom you are speaking are the criteria used to determine which type of language is spoken. The two types of “respect languages” are: “sonkeigo,” which translates to respectful language, and “kensongo,” which is the use of modest or humble language. Following are a few examples.

 

Sonkeigo, the respectful language, is used when talking about superiors and customers.  This type of language is never used to refer to one’s self. This language is only used when referring to someone else. It is necessary to use different verb conjugations when using this type of respect language. To show respect to an elder, for example, one may change the word “suru,” meaning “do,” to “hasaru.” Altering the verb in this way shows deference or respect despite the fact that the two words have the same meaning.

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Kensongo, the modest or humble language, is used to describe one’s actions or the actions of someone in a group such as customers in a business. Kensongo is used to describe situations in which someone is speaking of an action that took place while assisting another. For example, the word carry, which is “motsu,” is changed to “mochi shimasu” because the term is being used to retell a story in which that person helped someone carry something.

 

“I had to motsu the books.” This is adequate because someone is talking about a personal action they did for themselves. Alternately, that sentence would read, “I had to mochi shimasu the books for the customer today” if the person did the action for someone else.

 

Understanding how language shows respect for authority is important for everyday conversations, but is also extremely important for business transactions. Whether or not you make an attempt to speak the other language in negotiations, make sure that you are aware of hierarchical protocol prior to engaging the other party. Showing such deference will go a long way.

 

For more language learning tips to help you through your cultural adaptation process, contact Global Perceptions, your relocation specialist in Puerto Rico.

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