The Language And Linguistic Competence English Language Essay

Linguistic competence, besides being a part communicative competence, deals with language as such in oral communication which encompasses many spheres namely phonology that deals with pronunciation and perception of speech sounds, prosody that is needed when using intonation to convey syntactic information and the ability to interpret the information conveyed through intonation, lexis or diction which is the ability to choose the proper lexis in communication and make sense of the subtle meaning of a particular word or expression, and grammar that helps sentence formation and interpretation of sentence meaning.

Then one needs to clarify the nature of a language. “Language is a set of rules for generating speech” [1] , or “system of conventional spoken or written symbols used by people in a shared culture to communicate with each other” [2] . This shared culture is created by people. Hence, language cannot exist without its users. If its user quits using a language, then it ceases to exist. The vivid example is Latin language (here, the usage of Latin in medicine or other sciences is omitted). For a language to exist there should be society, because it is the society that uses and modifies language as time goes by.

How many languages are there in the world? Entologue research counted 6909 languages in the world [3] . And according to Encarta Encyclopedia there are ten mostly used languages in the world: Mandarin Chinese, Hindi or Urdu, Spanish, English, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, and German [4] , [5] . These are used in intercultural communication most of all.

Nonetheless, any language can serve as a channel for information flow. Yet, one language can have many speech communities that are big and small. Lobanov [6] implemented this term to describe variations of one language that exist, since one language can have many versions like, for example, English (British English, American English) or variances of one language in one country i.e. dialect.

Language by its nature can serve not only as means of communication, but also as self identification or identification of others. Likewise, one can use a language to exclude people from communication. For instance, in Russian prisons inmates use prison jargon in communication so that staff of prison would not understand what they are talking about.

Communication can occur if participants of oral communication know and use a common language. It is much easier if they are native speakers of the common language and share a lot of common ground knowledge. However, if they speak a completely different language, they won’t have good interaction, except primitive exchange of basic information by hand gestures that can be misleading or they would need to hire an interpreter. This section of the dissertation presents the situation when people do speak a common language, however that means of communication is not their native language and they don’t have common grounding. In such case, people would have different styles of communication that reside in their culture and differ from others that naturally cause miscommunication between them. There are 6 types of oral miscommunication which are caused by lack of knowledge of various language spheres such as phonology, lexis, grammar, and cultural competence [7] .

Table.2 Model for the categorization of nonnative-native speakers’ oral miscommunication and its causes.

Mispronunciation when encoding in speaking

Misuse and misunderstanding of spoken due to lack of adequate competence in prosody and phonology

Misperception when decoding when hearing

Misspeaking when encoding in speaking

Misuse and misunderstanding of spoken due to lack of adequate grammar and lexis competence /Misinterpretation of spoken because of lack adequate intercultural competence or socio-cultural differences

Misunderstanding or non-understanding when decoding

Misformulating spoken discourse

misuse and misinterpretation of spoken due to lack of adequate pragmatic competence/

Misinterpretation of spoken because of lack adequate intercultural competence or socio-cultural differences

Misunderstanding or non-understanding of spoken discourse.

Zhenxian Wang, Verbal Miscommunication Between English Native Speakers And Chinese Learners of English, Beijing Institute of Education, 2009, p. 5-11.

Mispronunciation which is the first point of the above table deals with encoding in speaking. Here Encoding is meant to be at the productive phonological level, which has three broad types: segmental, combinational, and supersegmental. Segmental mispronunciation occurs in individual consonants or vowels; combination mispronunciation refers to the omission of one consonant in a consonant cluster, poor pronunciation of linking sounds and weak forms; suprasegmental mispronunciation “comprises the phenomena of stress (word stress and sentence stress) rhythm, and intonation” [8] . For instance, one who speaks English that is not good enough could pronounce “heat” instead of “hit”, “think” like “sink” and many other words incorrectly.

Misperception when decoding when hearing. It occurs when one wrongly perceive or fail to recognize the pronunciation of words. For instance, one can see the difference between “hut” and “hot”, “sink” and “think”, “Seek” and “sick” and other words as he or she might apply the competence on phonology of his or her native language which might differ tremendously.

Misspeaking when encoding in speaking. Misuse of lexis, which often results from their lack of knowledge of the connotation of the lexis. For instance, one could say “In lame man’s terms:” instead of “In layman’s terms” meaning someone who lacks specialized knowledge on a topic. It wouldn’t be correct, or nice, to label someone a “lame man.”

Misunderstanding or non-understanding when decoding. Ignorance of a word’s connotation can lead to misspeaking, so it can also bring about misunderstanding. For instance, there is an expression “break your leg” that is used as a wish of good luck for the actors or entertainers before their performance. It is sometimes used even in the casual everyday life. Without knowing it, the foreigner might be offended that someone is suggesting breaking one’s leg.

Misformulating spoken discourse. For instance, in China, when the host offers anything to drink or eat, the guest, whether he or she wants to take it or not, will usually reply with a ritual “No” when asked for the first time. Then the host insists that the guest would accept the offer, replying with something like “ok”. Whereas, in certain other cultures of such continents as North America or Europe, the host does not serve drink or food against the spoken wishes of the guest. For that reason, in the western world, a Chinese person ends up without food or drink because of his or her ritual answer. Non-native speakers tend to employ the conversation strategies from their cultures, when they are not appropriate in cultures of native speakers or people from other cultures.

Non-understanding of discourse force is often a result of failure to distinguish discourse markers. For example, the discourse force of the sentence “Nice meeting you” is to finish the conversation; however, a nonnative speaker may not understand it. As a result, s/he continues talking to the native speaker who finally has to finish the conversation by saying “Sorry, we have to go”. [9] This situation took place between a Chinese high school female teacher of English and a female visitor from America when they met at the Tian’anmen Square for the first time [10] .

3.1 Vocabulary or Lexis

Words are the basic units of any language in the world that are used in sentences supported by grammar. They are loaded with meanings that can be good, neutral or bad. Problems arise when, for instance, some of the words and phrases whose meanings are unknown to the hearer, which hinder the hearer from comprehension of the conversation. Likewise there are the words known to the hearer but are undesired to be use due to their degree of rudeness. Here I will present and discuss certain categories of words and expressions that require special attention as they might cause miscommunication.

3.2 Slang

The first aspect of lexis in intercultural communication that needs reviewing is slang. The reason behind it is that slang and its misunderstanding can cause Behavioral and Mindset Anxiety, Discomfort Fear of the “Unknown”, Prejudice and Stereotyping, Perceived Cultural Superiority or Ethnocentrism, Racial, Sexual, and Educational Discrimination [11] .

One needs to understand that “Slang is an ever changing set of colloquial words and phrases that speakers use to establish or reinforce social identity or cohesiveness within a group or trend or fashion in society at large” [12] . The usage of slang in verbal intercultural communication might raise a barrier or misunderstanding as slang is attached to a certain social group, culture or subculture, rather not to language as such. Hence, a person who employs slang in his or her speech with foreigners that is used in communication among the representatives of his or her social group might be misunderstood or not understood at all.

There are certain criteria for words to be considered as slang [13] :

Its presence will markedly lower, at least for the moment, the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing.

Its use implies the user’s special familiarity either with the referent or with that of less status or less responsible class of people who have such familiarity and use the term.

It is a tabooed term in ordinary disclosure with persons of higher social status or greater responsibility.

It is used in place of the well-known conventional synonyms, especially in order (a) to protect the user from the discomfort caused by the conventional item or (b) to protect the user from the discomfort or annoyance of further elaboration.’

The most important is to realize that communication requires common ground knowledge for both parties of communication [14] . Slang cannot be considered a common ground for intercultural conversation as different nations do not share the knowledge of the same slang across the globe. Not to mention that slang should be avoided in certain settings of official meetings at any cost. The best option is to exclude the use of this type of vocabulary for speech in intercultural communication.

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