Tag Archive | speech

Language Switching and why I do it so much

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History biographies or period dramas, you have no doubt noticed that I tend to bounce around languages a great deal, sometimes at the expense of being directly understandable in a given point in the book.  So why do I do it and why will I not simply put the whole damn thing in English like normal people do?

In a word, PARALINGUISTICS.  Paralinguistics is a social science term for the parts of verbal communication that are not inherent in the meaning of the words we use.  Paralinguistics is the HOW of our speech: its melody, its pace, its inflection and so forth.  Dialect and specific word choice is also paralinguistic. It conveys to listeners a great deal of information about a person and in particular information about gender, ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, socio-economic class, even race sometimes.  Different places have different names for the same thing.


The labels we use for objects varies greatly with our geography and our dialect. A classic example of this is our word for a sweetened carbonated beverage.

One classic example I studied in university in my “non-verbal communication” class was the word we use to refer to a sweetened carbonated beverage. No, it is not the same word everywhere.  In the southern United States, the word “coke” is used to refer to such beverages, regardless of brand (I heard this myself during my stay in Louisville, Kentucky).  In many Midwestern states such as Nebraska where I was born and raised, the word is “pop.”  In New England the preferred word is “soda” which is the word I default to. In fact I often very purposely avoid the word “pop,” much to the annoyance of my now late mother who complained that I “didn’t talk like a Nebraskan.” That’s because I had so thoroughly adjusted my dialect to what is normal in the greater New York City metropolitan area that I no longer sounded like someone from the Midwest.

crawdad crayfish

Is it a crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish?  The word you use is largely determined by where you are from.

Beyond geography, our paralinguistics tell listeners a great deal about our socio-economic status and education.  A person with a third grade education talks differently than a person with a university degree.  A person who has traveled a great deal also talks differently from a person who has never left her own town or village. The languages one speaks is a powerful communicator of this information and how that person is perceived.  As a rule, speaking multiple languages is a mark of education, travel, and often class.  It tells you very concisely who that person is and what her or his background is.

No where is this more evident than in the use of honorifics.

What is an honorific?  It’s a word we use to convey respect to another person.  A classic example is when we address a judge “your honour” and a member of a royal family as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” In medieval societies it was especially important to show proper respect with these honorifics which include “your grace,” “my lord/milord,” “my lady/milady,” “my liege,” “sire,” “master,” “mistress,” and so forth.

Honorifics in the Legendary Women of World History biographies almost always follow the person’s nationality or adopted nationality.  So Princess Nest ferch Gruffydd respectfully greets King Gruffydd ap Cynan with the Welsh “f’arglwydd” which means “milord.” Use of “f’arglwydd” (or its feminine form “f’arglwyddes”) instantly tells you the speaker is Welsh. Likewise French Princess Catherine de Valois (book two) periodically speaks French, both to her family members and to the monolingual King Henry V, particularly during their many arguments.

When Matilda of England returns to London after the death of her husband, Kaiser Heinrich V, her persistent use of German and German forms of people’s names is there to tell you very concisely that she identifies herself as “empress” (German, Kaiserin; Latin, Imperatrix).  This is absolutely historical and it is a major reason why the Anglo-Norman nobility found her impossible to work with. Using German powerfully conveys how Matilda saw herself and how she insisted on being treated.

The use of language therefore tells you who the person is and how s/he self-identifies.  The actual meaning of the individual words is far less important than what the use of them says about the person as a whole and in the given moment.  Queen Elizabeth Tudor spoke at least six languages and therefore very fluently moved across them as she desired and the situation merited.  The immediate descendants of William the Conqueror spoke both English and French with the same fluency as many Canadians do today.  By necessity they used English, French, and Latin in the day-to-day administration of their vast realms.  Medieval Europeans prayed in Latin so all of the prayers found in the LWWH are in Latin as well.

Language switching in the Legendary Women of World History series is therefore essential in accurately communicating who these people were and the societies in which they lived.  It might be easier to render a prayer in English from a reader point of view, but it would not be historically accurate to do so. It might be more comfortable for some readers if all dialogue were in English, but doing so would strip out all of the paralinguistics that we all use everyday when communicating with other people.  It would be akin to writers universally using the word “coke” to refer to a soft drink without considering if that word is what a historical person or character would actually label the beverage.  A person from the southern United States most certainly would — but not all people in the United States are from the southern region nor are all English speakers from that region either.


Whether we realize it or not our word choices are an essential part of our daily communication.  More than simply which words we use, our dialects and use of borrowed words from other languages communicates a great deal about who we are to people.  Fluency in many languages is driven by many factors in our lives:  social, economic, educational, and professional to name just a few. How we speak is a major part of the tapestry of our lives.  Embrace that tapestry in your own life and use your understanding of it to enhance your understanding of other people.





Repost: Birds diversified in “big bang” after dinosaurs died out

Birds diversified in big bang after dinosaurs died out.

Reposted from World Science.

A ma­jor new study sheds new light on how and when birds evolved and ac­quired fea­tures such as feath­ers, flight and song, sci­en­tists say.

The study charts a burst of ev­o­lu­tion that took place af­ter the di­no­saurs sud­denly died out, about 66 mil­lion years ago. Sci­en­tists say this burst oc­curr­ed as new forms exploited op­port­uni­ties left open by the absence of the din­o­saurs, some of which were the an­cest­ors of these same birds. With­in 10 mil­lion years, re­search­ers found, the avian ex­plos­ion created rep­re­sen­ta­tives of nearly all the ma­jor bird lin­eages with us to­day.

The four-year proj­ect de­cod­ed and com­pared the en­tire ge­net­ic fin­ger­print of 48 bird spe­cies to rep­re­sent all these lin­eages—in­clud­ing the wood­peck­er, owl, pen­guin, hum­ming­bird and fla­min­go.

Re­search­ers al­so com­pared these genomes with those of three oth­er rep­tile spe­cies and hu­mans.

They found that bird­song evolved se­pa­rate­ly at least twice. Par­rots and song­birds gained the abil­ity to learn and mim­ic vo­cal ac­ti­vity in­de­pend­ently of hum­ming­birds, de­spite shar­ing many of the same genes.

The find­ings are con­sid­ered im­por­tant be­cause some of brain pro­cesses that are in­volved in bird sing­ing are al­so as­so­ci­at­ed with hu­man speech.

Birds are the most ge­o­graph­ic­ally di­verse group of land an­i­mals. They help sci­en­tists in­ves­t­i­gate fun­da­men­tal ques­tions in bi­ol­o­gy and ecol­o­gy and they are al­so a ma­jor glob­al food re­source, pro­vid­ing meat and eggs.

More than 200 sci­en­tists con­tri­but­ed to the Avi­an Phy­loge­nomics Proj­ect, which was led by BGI in Shen­zhen, Chi­na, the Uni­vers­ity of Co­pen­ha­gen, Duke Uni­vers­ity in North Car­o­li­na, the How­ard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute based in Chevy Chase, Md., and the Nat­u­ral His­to­ry Mu­se­um of Den­mark. The find­ings are pub­lished in 23 sci­en­tif­ic pa­pers, in­clud­ing eight in the jour­nal Sci­ence.

Build­ing on this re­search, sci­en­tists at the Na­t­ional Avi­an Re­search Facil­ity in Ed­in­burgh have cre­at­ed 48 da­tabases to share and ex­pand on the in­forma­t­ion as­so­ci­at­ed with the birds’ genomes. They hope that re­search­ers from around the world will con­tin­ue to up­load their own da­ta, of­fer­ing fur­ther in­sights to the ge­net­ics of mod­ern birds.

Such in­forma­t­ion is ex­pected to be use­ful for help­ing sci­en­tists to un­der­stand why in­fec­tious dis­eases, such as bird flu, af­fect some spe­cies but not oth­ers.

“This is just the be­gin­ning. We hope that giv­ing peo­ple the tools to ex­plore this wealth of bird gene in­forma­t­ion in one place will stim­u­late fur­ther re­search,” said Da­vid Burt, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­t­ional Avi­an Re­search Facil­ity at the Uni­vers­ity of Ed­in­burgh’s Roslin In­sti­tute.

“Ul­ti­mately, we hope the re­search will br­ing im­por­tant in­sights to help im­prove the health and wel­fare of wild and farmed birds.”

Getting the Most Out of Telephone Customer Service

This article written January 3rd, 2013 was the product of first hand experience working at a call center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania for the December holidays.  In it, I reveal helpful tips for making your next call to customer service a success.


Getting the Most Out of Telephone Customer Service

Four Tips for Making Your Next Call a Success

We all do it: call up the companies we deal with and speak to a customer service representative. Whether it’s our utilities, our credit cards, or just a purchase we made somewhere, it’s almost impossible to go through life without talking to a customer service representative on the telephone. In fact, most of us prefer to speak to a representative over scrolling through website FAQs, automated telephone menus, and email/chat service options – at least for a few specific areas of our lives. We as Americans like real people at the end of the line, especially those who can hear us, understand us, and we can understand when talking to them.

Yet most of us go about these calls the wrong way. Caught up in the heat of whatever is provoking the phone call, we make mistakes when talking on the phone to customer service and often ignore the humanity of the people on the other end in ways we tend not to when getting help in person at a store.

The following four tips are things I discovered first hand working over the holidays in a call center for making your next call to customer service more successful:

Be prepared:

When you call customer service, the representative will need certain key pieces of information in order to locate your account and help you. Until she or he obtains this information from you, her or his system simply won’t display your account, your order, or whatever digital information is necessary to assist you. Depending on the type of call you are making, you will need to have ready things like your account number, phone number or email address as listed in their files, confirmation number, or any other applicable pieces of information. If you are calling regarding healthcare, expect to be asked for the name of your primary care physician and/or date of service if you are making a billing-related call.

Knowing why you are calling and then being ready to provide key information relating to your call will make things easier – for you and your representative.

Speak slowly, clearly, and loud enough to be heard:

Customer service representatives have to enter your information into a computer. This often involves transcribing information you tell them. Transcribing takes longer than reading; our short term memory for hearing is less than 4 seconds. So slow down, speak up, speak clearly (using formal language helps), and verify with your representative that s/he has heard you correctly and transcribed your information accurately, especially with number-based information which most people type more slowly than they do with regular words and phrases.

Customer Service Representatives are SPECIALISTS:

This may or may not seem obvious, but it’s important to understand when you make that call. Ever wonder why so many companies use touch-tone automated systems to direct your call? The reason is specialization. Customer service can be extremely specialized with groups of service representatives trained and able to assist with only specific segments of your service. For example, a billing representative typically works just with billing questions. They are there to handle financial aspects of your account. Likewise a technical support representative is there to handle operation of and problems with some sort of device (computer, music player, cell phone, etc.).

This means that each of these individuals or groups of individuals can only help you with their specific expertise. Their knowledge and authority to assist you is limited to their specific area. When calling, pay attention to where you are being directed and ask, if need be, if you have been directed to the correct individual who can handle your needs. Often more than one person in more than one area may be needed to handle all of your questions or concerns. If this is the case, patiently handle one item at a time with each person you need to talk to. Customer service people are friendly, empathic, and caring. We want you to be happy with all your questions, concerns, and issues resolved before you hang up.

Customer Service Representatives are PEOPLE:

It seems obvious, but we tend to forget the humanity of the customer service representatives on the end of the phone line. When they answer our call, too often our first impulse is to vent about whatever it is that is provoking us to call their company. This blinds us to both the specialized nature of what they can do for us and to them as people who are there trying to help us. We may yell, complain about some aspect of product or service we are unhappy with, or even vent with them about things not directly related to the reason for our call.

What we fail to understand is that all of these things interfere with the customer service representative’s efforts to help us. Instead, we get better results when we recognize the independence of the customer service individual from whatever problems we are facing. Customer service representatives are there to help us fix problems; they are NOT the source OF our problems.

When we treat our service representatives as partners working to help us resolve our problems, we help them help us.

So next time you make that phone call to customer service, remember these four tips. You’ll get better service and hang up a happier customer.