Monday, May 15, 2006

How does slang impact intercultural knowledge transfer?

As the Western world transitions into a knowledge society, one must ask, “How does slang impact intercultural knowledge transfer and interaction?” What does slang mean? How do I keep up with all the new words and old words with totally different meanings, which are often times not defined or found in an older Dictionary. Let’s examine Wikipedia’s definition of slang below:

Wikipedia defines slang as sharing at least two of the following four traits:

  1. First, it is markedly lower in dignity than Standard English.

My first question is who is defining our dignity? I suggest the slang communicator or the out-group users of slang were not offered the opportunity to contest and/or add input to this power and privileged definition created by the in-group. One must admit the out-group’s creation of a new language is awfully innovative. Organizations often create acronyms (business slang) to communicate in a special, privileged way. The intent of slang is to communicate and identify with a single group. The creation of an in-group necessitates the ability to keep out-groups out. Knowledge of slang and/or acronyms exclude others.

In intercultural interactions, including language barriers, how in the world are international counterparts going to learn English as a second or third language when slang words are used in place of defined words? Try training in another country using everyday English, including slang. For example, “That’s cool!” Are you cold? Or, “He is flying by the seat of his pants.” How does an individual get lift without a motor?

  1. Second, it tends to first appear in the language of groups with low status, meaning they may have little power or little responsibility.

Am I wrong or is this an over stated generalization concerning status, power and responsibility? This generalization appears as an attempt to maintain one group’s status? Who is creating and defining the status? In the past, education has been a privilege, in the future education (knowledge consumption) is for all. Although education has never been an indication of intelligence, it is power. If we agree that knowledge is power, then why are we adopting social and business slang to keep others out and guessing? In a world where knowledge transfer is quickly becoming the key to power, we need a way to transcend beyond all natural language barriers. We need to ease the transfer of knowledge and remove barriers to understanding. The word dog (lacking social morals) should mean dog (canine).

  1. Third, it is often taboo and would be unlikely to be used by people of high status.

The third point is again, a generalization of status and power, this time adding in a criminal element in the lower status groups of people. Is this suggesting that higher status people only use more scholarly, educated English and that they do not commit crimes? Is there no slang among the higher status? What is a statement like “The eagle has landed,” mean? White collar crime is usually more devastating than blue! Is Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr. better renowned as Snoop Dog, part of the higher status in-group? Does wealth define the in-group today?

  1. Fourth, it tends to displace a conventional term, either as a short-hand or as a defense against perceptions associated with the conventional term.

Today, marketing professionals are creating and adapting slang (new words) to market products. For example, Mazda’s use of an old word with a new word definition, “zoom-zoom,” I thought a car went Vroom and a camera Zoomed, I was wrong. “Zoom-Zoom starts with a visual promise. Mazda vehicles are designed to not only catch the eye; they convey an immediate image of youthful exuberance, style and driving fun (Mazda).”

In conclusion, slang continues to grow even though the use of slang is a detriment to a global society and successful global knowledge transfer. The ability to transfer knowledge over and around such barriers will continue to be a major challenge as long as we use and adopt slang. Scholarly writing is necessary to enable knowledge transfer among intercultural educated groups as it demands the nonuse of slang and standardizes the use of language for all educated groups regardless of diverse culture. In other words, it sets the stage for fairness in communication.

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