2.6 Context and language variation
As well as contributing to meaning, context can also influence the actual words and sentences that we use. Do you sometimes say ‘Hi’ and at other times say ‘Good morning’? Do you have a ‘telephone voice’? This variation in language may be done deliberately, but often it is not. There are two main reasons as to why we adjust the way we speak:
to fit in with our audience or what we feel they expect of us; you may use ‘professional’ language with children's parents, for example – in part to give the implicit message that you are dealing with their child in a professional manner;
to be clearly understood by our audience, e.g. in the way in which you speak to children.
Activity 10: Your language in context
Over the next few days, keep a note of examples that you feel illustrate how your language changes to suit its context. Choose 10–12 of these and record them on a chart – for example:
|‘Good morning’||Greeting a child's parent||Emphasising my professional role – a bit distant but ‘in control’|
|‘Oh dear, what happened to your poor knee?’||Gemma brought to me with a grazed knee, crying||Warm tone, comforting (with close eye contact and hand on child's shoulder)|
Finally, write a brief explanation of how you adjust the way you talk to meet the needs of the young children with whom you work.
You will probably notice the interpersonal basis of many of your choices. When we enter into conversation, we often want to express solidarity or ‘closeness’ with the person we are speaking to, although there may be occasions when we wish to establish distance by deliberately speaking differently from them.
For every variation in the way you speak, there will be a reason. Sometimes variation towards less formal ways of speaking is criticised as a lapse in ‘good English’, but this is a questionable view.