Jack Hill 
Article Title
How To Improve Your Grammar And Punctuation 
Posted Date

Individual words too can have relatively different meanings in different cultures depending upon expectations, values and experience of the two persons, the speaker and the listener. For example a word such as ‘far’ when applied to distance, may convey something totally different to a city dweller in North America who practically never walks anywhere, compared with someone who lives on the land in the middle of an African country. Similarly words such as ‘big’ or ‘large’ when related to size of an object or a contract.

In the various languages, punctuation marks and other symbols such as the full stop (.), the comma (,) the colon (:), the semicolon (;), the question mark (?), the quotation mark (‘) and many others are not necessarily written in the same way, nor positioned in the same manner within text. Many different kinds of diacritical signs and marks are used, and some specialist signs and ligatures, such as the ampersand (&) or the ‘at’ sign (@) may not be understood. All languages using romanised script are written from left to right on a horizontal line, while many others including Arabic script and languages in Asia and South East Asia are written from right to left.

Chinese characters, pictographs or ideograms are printed from top to bottom in vertical columns shifting from right to left, but sometimes also from left to right in horizontal lines. There is a saying in diplomatic circles, that when a diplomat says yes, he means maybe; if he says maybe he means no; and if he says no, he is no diplomat. It is to oversimplify matters to state that in Western European countries and in North America the word ‘yes’ means the affirmative and ‘no’ the negative, in many other countries and cultures even these two words are often the cause of serious misunderstandings.

In France people will often say ‘no’, when they actually mean — maybe, but try and convince me. In most European languages the response to a question is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ according to whether the answer is positive or negative, as in the following examples:

Question Answer to be conveyed:

1. Is your name Peter? (My name is Peter) Yes
2. Is your name Peter? (My name is not Peter) No
3. Isn’t your name Peter? (My name is Peter) Yes
4. Isn’t your name Peter? (My name is not Peter) No

But in many African and other languages the choice of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is made in the light of whether the question and answer are both negative, when the answer is ‘yes’, but if they are not, it will be,’no’.

The answers to the four questions above are therefore:

1. Affirmative question + affirmative answer = Yes
2. Affirmative question + negative answer = No
3. Negative question + affirmative answer = No
4. Negative question + negative answer = Yes

A typical example could be the reply to a negative question, such as ‘You have no underground railway in this town?’ The reply in many African countries might well be: ‘Yes, we have none.’ During conversations, discussions and even negotiations with people who live in Asian countries one will notice that they seldom say no. This is not, because there may not be an equivalent word in their language but because they wish to save face or embarrassment for both parties. Instead they may use euphemism or vague, neutral or indirect words and phrases rather than a direct or unforgiving — no. It should also be noted that in many cultures people will tell you what they think you would want and like to hear, even by the way of giving you directions. They may use words such as ‘not far’, when the destination may well be a long way away.

Often the answer to a language problem is the need to read ‘between the lines’. This indicates that one has to analyse what has not been said rather than what has been said. In some languages such as German and most of the Scandinavian languages the information conveyed by the language is explicit and words have specific meaning, while in others such as Arabic and Japanese it is not necessarily so. There are sometimes hidden or subtle meanings in words and expressions which are not obvious to foreigners even if they have a good knowledge of a language.

There is the story of a tired businessman telephoning the reception desk in a hotel in a country in the Middle East requesting ‘an extra pillow’, and to his surprise immediately being sent up a girl. If he made a similar request in a British hotel he might well be asked, whether he would like the pillow to be feather or foam filled.

There are basically two types of languages. There are the dead languages such as Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit which are learned for historical or religious reasons without being part of everyday linguist exchange and living languages currently in use worldwide. Because languages in current use are alive, they are the method of conveying new ideas, innovations and concepts. There is therefore a constant stream of new words which enter languages, as well as changes in the interpretation of existing words. This too can cause of misunderstandings, even when people talk the same language and even the use of identical words could mean different things.

Changes take place more rapidly in the context of the spoken language than when it is written. The compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, state that around 1,000 new words, worth recording, are added to the English language every year. Sign language is a central part of the deaf culture. There is no universal sign language and every country, with a few exceptions, has its own form of sign language, for example: ASL — American Sign Language LSF — Langue des Signes Francaise DGS — German Sign Language BSL — British Sign Language

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