Saturday, 24 January 2015

Communication and Dialogue

Communication and Dialogue

It takes a little while to ‘re-familiarise’ when we move from one country to another and it’s always a little challenging. We need to re-immerse ourselves in Greek (or Australian) culture each time we migrate.

We slowly get used to being surrounded again by the other language, and all that pertains to communication in that language. We we find ourselves making comparisons, but also find that this is not necessarily derogotory, and that making comparisons we are learning again something about the two cultures, and what it is we value about each place.

The Flexibility of Language

Steve Pinker in his book about writing style, ‘Sense of Style’, argues for a more easygoing attituded. He thinks we can write understandably without insisting on outdated stylistic conventions.
But we all have our hates about modern language usage.

Terry Eagleton wrote a very funny piece about the way he’d react (if he could) to some peoples useage ‘if he were king for a day’.
My first move as monarch would be to tackle those grim institutions in which antisocial types are confined for years only to emerge as much a threat to civilised society as ever. Having abolished the public schools, I would turn to the question of language. On-the-spot fines will be issued to people who say “refute” when they mean “deny”, “fortuitous” when they mean “fortunate” and “floor” when they mean “ground”. People who tell you that they literally exploded with laughter will be literally exploded. Those who talk about their life as a journey will have their travels rapidly terminated.’

And so on….

Nowadays many English words are used in Greek, and not long ago which style of Greek should be used created a very big divide between popular usage and an academic ‘cleaned-up’ version. A compromise developed in the early 19C is now used for literary and official purposes. (In Takis’ lifetime there was still some confusion at times)

From Wikipedia
In the modern era, the Greek language entered a state of diglossia: the coexistence of vernacular and archaizing written forms of the language. What came to be known as the Greek language question was a polarization between two competing varieties of Modern Greek: Dimotiki, the vernacular form of Modern Greek proper, and Katharevousa meaning 'purified'.

Language in Context

I’ve now become more familiar with the non-verbals used in Greece, often accomaning a verbal saying.
Perhaps for true understanding one must listen AND watch a speaker. One writer insists....

 'True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal' … John Berger

John Berger’s books talk often about non-verbal forms of communication and especially his book ‘Ways of Seeing’. He emphasises the fact that a true translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. As he puts it, the third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words before it was written. The situation, the context, the speaker’s – poet, painter, writer – intentions.

I've found, when trying to understand conversations in Greece this to be true, 'true translation demands an understanding of the situation, the context, and the speaker’s intentions'.  

This way you can catch the nuances. Talking to my husband, listening to neighbours in Greece I’ve learn that some phrases in Greek, like some of those English terms used in Australia, can have a number of meanings, depending on situation, context, and intention.

For instance, in Greece ‘eh re athelfe’, with arms thrown up and hands shaken can mean,
‘What do you mean!’
‘Why blame me?’
‘That’s enough!’
‘I’ve had enough of your accusations’.

And the saying, ‘then birazi’, with a shrug, can mean,
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘That’s OK.’
‘It’s alright.’

So What do We Mean?

In one of her books about settling into the Greek way of life Gillian Bouras makes a comment about, 

‘The limitless power of language to divide, as well as unite.’ 

It is easy to mistranslate what is said, and end up confused, or even having an argument.

In the first chapter of my book I write about my continuing confusion with Greek non-verbals, and about the confusions that can ensue. I refer especially the upward lift of the head to indicate ‘no’, rather than a shake of the head side to side.  

‘And though I had expected that, as in most cross-cultural relationships, there might be a few communication problems between us, I soon came to see that even a simple communication could cause problems. My first lesson came when he gave a wordless response to my question about whether he wanted a second helping of dessert. It wasn’t a vigorous headshake, rather an upward tilt of the head with raised eyebrows. At first I thought that this might be a Greek gesture of disdain, about the meal or perhaps an uncertainty as to his state of fullness. So had he not liked the sweet? Perhaps he needed to be encouraged to take another serve? Gradually I came to understand this culturally codified non-verbal ‘no’ response, and I’d pack the dishes away.’

But, having sorted out what the other person actually meant to say, and with a better understanding, then real dialogue can begin!

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