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Harris (2004) observes that cultural norms shape the ways in which every person conducts themselves in their daily life. The morality derived from these norms defines what the society perceives as right or wrong. The cultural background of different persons also determines how they speak a certain language and also the words they use. As most people from different social backgrounds continue to interact there is bound to be a breakdown in communication due to misunderstandings.
People from different countries can speak a similar language, for example English but fail to communicate due to differences that may arise from cross cultural pragmatics. The English language in particular has many dialects and therefore English speaking people from different countries may have a communication breakdown because of their different cultural backgrounds. English dialects such as the British and American differ very much due to the cultural diversity between the two nations. Linguistic differences between a Briton and an American in the use of language at different levels can lead to a misunderstanding and in the same way; the cultural differences will cause a variation in language use leading to a misunderstanding. Miscommunication therefore leads to misunderstanding.
Culture plays a major role in language use which leads to miscommunication. There are various factors in language use that may lead to miscommunication and therefore misunderstanding such as using slang or colloquialisms in one’s speech. Different people use different styles and registers they view appropriate in speech depending on their culture. People of the same age group may use slang and therefore a person who is not conversant with the slang they are using may not understand what they are saying (Poteet, 2010). A colloquialism in the same way as slang originates from a small group and then spreads slowly from there. Consequently, people from different backgrounds will find it hard to communicate with persons using slang or colloquialisms they are not familiar with resulting to miscommunication.
The use of jargons in speech may hinder communication between people from different backgrounds. Jargon may be defined as language that in most cases is limited to a specific group of people maybe professionals or trade partners. The use of jargons allows its users to communicate and identify themselves as members of one group and locks out members who don’t belong to that particular group. Whenever jargons are used outside their groups they tend to be very confusing and therefore hinder communication. People also use various acronyms when speaking different languages. Acronyms may pose a huge communication barrier because they may not be that common to everyone. Acronyms which may be common to many Britons may not be that common to Americans for example (King, 2008).
Miscommunication may also arise through the use of certain mediums of communication by people from different cultures. Communication media such as telephones which does not allow persons to observe gestures and facial expressions may lead to miscommunication. People from different places may use certain words that might be misunderstood when facial expressions and gestures are not in play.
Various cultures use words of the same language differently. This brings us to the question of denotations vs. connotations. Denotations imply to the right meanings of words as per their dictionary definition while connotations refer to what different words suggests bringing in emotional associations (LeBaron, 2003). A person may use a certain word in their speech but a listener may misunderstand its meaning which may sound offensive to him in respect to their culture. Words such as kid, juvenile or brat may have the same denotative meanings but have completely different connotative meanings.
As people from different cultures who speak the same language continue to interact, language misunderstanding is bound to occur. Miscommunications and misunderstandings can however be limited to avoid conflicts in the use of language through various means. Misunderstandings can be minimized through the improvement of cross cultural understanding between various persons who interact frequently (Harris, 2003). When people understand different cultures apart from the one they are most familiar with, they will understand how cultural differences affect language use and therefore improve communication. People are also encouraged to seek clarification whenever they fail to understand people from different backgrounds. Asking questions to seek confirmation and elaboration plays a major part in improving understanding between people. It is also important to use standard language when communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds. When jargons, slang and unfamiliar acronyms are avoided in speech, chances of misunderstanding are minimized.