Where behavioral science and humanism get out of the ivory tower, and into the world.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

They might really not understand…

New research by Dr. Dabrowska and James Street summarized by Science Daily sheds interesting light on parts of communication that was until now, seemingly taken for granted.

A lot of linguistic theory assumes that people are hardwired for language (which does seem to have merit) but, Chomsky, and many of his followers argue that there is “fundamental grammar” that all people understand language parts in the same way.  There’s been some controversial indications that this might not be true such as the book “Don’t sleep there are snakes” where a missionary to the amazon says he worked with a tribe that doesn’t use recursive language. Which basically means that their language doesn’t allow for sentences that would have two commas in them. Recursion is/was assumed to a part of all human language.

The new research shows that many native adult English speakers may not understand “passive” sentence construction ie. “The soldier was hit by the sailor.” As opposed to “active” sentence construction, “The sailor hit the soldier.” Understanding passive sentences was another aspect of language that was assumed to be a universal. These contrary findings have many implications.

The one that jumps out to me is that co-workers, children, parents and really anyone else you might speak with literally may not understand you, or get the opposite meaning out of your words. Maybe those people who seem to actively contradict others are really trying to please. At the core of this frustrating behavior may actually be the result of incomplete language processing.

It’s simply to get around though, and is used throughout the mental health world. Repeating back the speakers statements in one’s own words allows for corrections to be made, and ensures that both parties are understood.

I still wonder though how many times I’ve been mad at people thinking they want to frustrate me when all it was, was a break down in communication.

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