The Rhetorical Context: Straddling the Pond

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have raised the subject of the ‘AmericaniZation‘ of our language before. E.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/americanization/. I’ve also discussed the tendency towards misunderstanding between our cultures too: e.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/people-are-rude/ which was written after several years of trans-Atlantic comments on a YouTube posting.  Roger Elmore then kindly supplied a considered response to the matter back in September 2010.

Now, I’d like to introduce yet another Trans-Atlantic consideration of our language. This time by Mariana Ashley [see by-line below]. mariana.ashley031@gmail.com

We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post.

The Rhetorical Context: Straddling the Pond

I.

As a writer, I’ve long been amazed by the wonderful ways of language, and as a college graduate who once studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, I’ve come to love, as well, the wonderful subtle differences between different languages, especially between my American version of English and the version that many of my Australian friends spoke and wrote. Likewise, my travels to London, where one of my college friends now lives, have also allowed me to experience the wonder of British English.

I do not mean, at all, to make these other non-American versions of English into an ‘Other’ form, a less-legitimate or unnatural version of the English I speak; no, my praise is meant sincerely, for I value these differences, and I appreciate how they have created an entire English language that is both distinct and various.

But, as we have often seen, these distinctions bring with them a certain trouble, especially when we are concerned with meaning and the context that provides such meaning. For example, guides abound throughout the Internet that are meant to help students going abroad better prepare for these different contexts and possible miscommunications that could arise simply because the same word might have two different meanings between America and Australia, or America and Britain.

II.

This impulse to educate those who will soon be crossing over into new linguistic contexts is a very good one, and I think there ought to be more of it. Yes, languages will always shift as cultures change over time; however, there are certain linguistic shifts that should not happen if a culture wants to preserve some aspect of its past. In this case, those cultures who hold the lever regarding their influence on others should consider exerting some cultural responsibility when it comes to wielding that lever. Likewise, those cultures being influence can resist in unique ways, thus reappropriating the cultural impact. Consider, for example, the ubiquitous McDonald’s restaurant, which I saw many of in Sydney. I learned that Australians call McDonald’s by a slangy term: Macca’s. Yes, it’s a bit rough, but I thought it was interesting to see how Australians had appropriated what is essentially an American export and made it their own in a culturally significant way.

I believe that writers and educators, in many ways, are the guardians of the English language, and because of this, we must be mindful of how we make use of it in different contexts. My training as a writer, and as a one-time teacher of composition/rhetoric to freshmen students, has always made me aware of this. I view all communication through the prism of the rhetorical triangle: audience, purpose/author, message. If a writer is aware of this rhetorical context, he or she can sincerely do his or her best to engage in appropriate forms of communication that respect linguistic differences between groups.

III.

Let’s consider this post here: an American writer, trained in American universities, writing for a British audience and trying to explain one way by which we all could better police the less pleasurable linguistic shifts in language as a result of American English’s jargon infiltrating British English. I’ve tried, as an American author, to connect with my audience by giving some of my past, by explaining the pleasure I’ve taken from interacting with other forms of English. I’ve also tried to dial down some of my Americanisms; in fact, ‘dial down’ is the first Americanism I’ve used here, I believe. Yes, there are conventions I’ve maintained, such as certain spellings, and I cannot completely avoid allowing my idiosyncracies as a writer to shine, but I like to believe that I have made an effort to meet the expectations of my audience.

I think that an understanding of the rhetorical context, in many instances, could help us to avoid unwanted linguistic baggage. Of course, this will certainly not solve the issue, as many Americans and Australians and British are not conscious of how their speaking and writing of English might affect others, so my solution here is merely an individual one. The hope, then, is that by our example, others might become inspired.

By-line:

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031@gmail.com.

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