Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Cultural/Domain Languages

Mastering natural languages (e.g., human languages, such as English, Chinese, Arabic) can get you far in communicating one’s needs, but to truly establish understanding or to avoid misunderstanding, language must be put in cultural context (e.g., responding, “Excellent” to “Would you like more soup?” in Japanese means you don’t want any more soup, though it was excellent, so excellent, in this case, means no). Misunderstanding happens among native speakers of the same language, and even between friends with shared history.

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Different disciplines have different sets of vocabulary which reflect how the discipline frame concepts that are crucial to them. People who practice that discipline have a clear short cut in their thinking process by using those terms and thinking in those terms. For example, in economics, there are concepts like “comparative advantage”, “opportunity cost”; and scientists talk about if a data set is “normalized” or not, or concept of “control” vs. variables. The domains are not limited to academic disciplines. Sports is rich with terms of maneuvers or strategies, such as “developing a strong forehand” and “running out the clock” that can easily be applied to management and team building, and basic concepts like “defense” and “offense”. Languages that come from cultural and/or religious practices also frame our minds, such as 3 key elements of a Japanese flower arrangement: heaven, earth and man.

Learning the cultural/domain specific language of the individual you are speaking with helps you frame what and how they are thinking. To follow the maxim, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”, it’s helpful to learn the conceptual language they are familiar with.

Photo: Sculpture at de Young Museum, San Francisco, California


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This entry was posted on October 22, 2015 by in Culture, language, Management and tagged , , , , , .
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