Sunday, January 23, 2005

Lost In Translation

This afternoon we, along with several other families, took the kids to the Botanical Gardens in temperatures as close to 0 degrees C as makes no difference - a pecurliarly British form of child abuse (the sea-side is just as good; it just has to be damn cold), which is supposed to be "character building." Okay, fingers will thaw out again (painfully, if you go from the cold into too warm a house...); but the emotional damage has got to be lasting.

I've been thinking about communication (following on from yesterday's post), and about Jamie, an Australian friend from post-grad days, whose favourite expression was (the quintessentially Aussie) "fair dinkum." Fair dinkum has (at least) three quite distinct meanings:
1. Said quickly and with a stress on the fair, at the end of an improbable statement fair dinkum means "Straight up" - which in turn means "I'm telling the truth" and includes the rhetorical "Would I lie to you?"
2. Said evenly and in response to an improbable statement fair dinkum means "No kidding" - which in turn means "Who'd have thought that that would be true?"
3. Said slowly, with each syl-la-ble stretched out, in response to an improbable action (or, report of an improbable action) fair dinkum means something like "Bloody Nora!" or "Jesus wept" - which in turn mean "There's no accounting for/helping some people..." usually accompanied by a non-verbal expression of exasperation, such as shaking the head.

So in relation to credibility, "fair dinkum" can be a postive (I'm telling the truth), neutral (I guess I accept that to be the truth, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction sort of a way) or negative (I can't believe that is believable) statement. Complicated.

Communication is not just about what we say. Its about how we say what we say, and the context in which we say it, and the ability of the person we are attempting to communicate to to correctly interpet what we say according to how we say it and the context in which we say it, which depends on their familiarity or otherwise of the rules which we are communicating by (which are usually unwritten, as writing them - as I think I demonstrate above - tends to be complicated).

In other words, effective communication (of new information) takes place where there is a shared body of experience (of existing information). And not many people speak Australian in Hillsborough...

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