Global Studies: Getting the Message
(November 7, 2013)
The ability to communicate adequately with each other is a skill most human beings take for granted. What if you couldn't tell people what you were trying to say? What if you couldn't write it down for them? How would it feel, and how would your message be construed? Last week homeschoolers in the Global Studies class at Talking Stick explored how important it is to get your message across.
We started with a "telephone" language game, in which each participant wrote a headline on the top of a piece of paper, and passed it on. The next person drew an illustration to the headline, folded the headline down so that only the drawing was visible, and passed it on again. The next person looked at the drawing and attempted to write a headline based on what the picture appeared to be saying. On and on around the table, thirteen different headlines were transformed and reinterpreted through illustration. We discovered with much hilarity that all of the headlines were grossly misconstrued by the end. We then discussed how it would feel and what confusion might result if we could only communicate through pictures. Interestingly, the rabbit/bunny image was the one that remained unchanged throughout the entire process. There must be something universally recognizable in those long ears.
Are there people in the world who can't communicate easily? What happens when your native language stops being used? Hundreds of indigenous languages in North America are rapidly nearing extinction. We discussed the different status of many of the languages of the United States, and listened to some examples of them. We also discovered that some languages are on the rise despite previously declining numbers. Language is a part of a culture, and when a group decides to protect and propagate their culture, their heritage language must be preserved.
I then shared two examples of blended languages, Gullah and Angloromani, which are distinct languages in their own right. We listened to examples of phrases and watched a video of a story being told in Gullah. Reactions to the video ranged from the story being completely unintelligible, to it sounding like uneducated, slang-laden English. How do the perceptions of the dominant language majority influence the rise and fall of these endangered languages? Would someone want to speak a language that was perceived by the majority as less than literate?
[pb_vidembed title="Gullah Story Teller Carolyn White" caption="" url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kY_0lXMeVM" type="yt" w="480" h="385"]
To illustrate the perception and sound of a blended language, we tried an exercise where we wrote different sentences in English and replaced some words with a combination of foreign words, descriptive phrases, slang, and onomatopoeia. For example, the sentence "I walked my dog to the park and he barked at the policeman and the children," became "Je traveled with my chien to the place-with-many-trees and he yapped at the polizei and the lil' youngsters." We had a lot of fun with these phrases, trying them with different accents and intonations. It quickly became apparent how difficult it is to understand each other when we make even a few minor changes.
If the speakers of our de facto national and majority languages were better educated about language endangerment would we view each other with more compassion? In trying to get our own message across may we embrace each other's heritage and enjoy a richer global culture.