s humans, I don't believe it's a matter of us wanting to communicate with
each other, but rather I believe we are compelled to communicate with each
other. It's in
our nature to express our thoughts, our ideas, our emotions to others. Yet to be
understood, whether it be written, spoken
or otherwise, we must use well-defined ways of communicating. Without such definitions, I believe
misinterpretation or misunderstanding would ultimately be the result.
For instance, let's say an airplane takes off from
Bogota, Colombia and heads
to New York City. As it approaches the Big Apple, the aircraft is placed in a series
of extended holding patterns because of an unusually high volume of traffic
caused by poor weather in the northeast. As the aircraft
circles around the
city, the aircrew grows concerned about their fuel consumption. The captain of the
speaks very little English and has to communicate through his first officer.
Several times during the long delay the first
officer tells the air traffic controller "we need priority," but at no time does he declare an emergency.
After waiting over an hour, the aircrew finally informs the
air traffic controller that they're about to run out of fuel. The
controller immediately gives the aircraft clearance to land, but after a missed approach
and during a go-around, all four engines fail and the aircraft crashes into a wooded area sixteen miles away from the airport.
Of course such a scenario isn't likely to happen, right?
Not so. This actually happened. On January 25th, 1990
Avianca's Flight 052 from Bogota, Colombia bound for New York's JFK
International Airport crashed into Cove Neck, New York because it ran out of
fuel after waiting one hour and seventeen minutes to land (NTSB).
But at no time during the flight did the aircrew declare an
emergency. Aboard the Boeing 707 were 158 people, 73 of whom did not survive the
crash. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the probable
cause of the crash was "the lack of standardized understandable
terminology for pilots and controllers for minimum and emergency fuel states"
(NTSB). In another words, if the aircrew had properly communicated the crisis by
declaring an emergency, the air traffic controller would have understood the peril of the
aircraft and would have cleared it for landing sooner.
Tragic as this accident may be, it is a haunting example of what
when we "fail to
communicate." And if I understand correctly what a professor from
West Virginia University suggests, we should ignore standards for communicating,
and we should simply use our native "dialect feature" and not worry that we may
or may not be understood.
I believe effective communications is vital for
our continued existence. And it appears the
of China, Chao Cheng (Ch'in Shih huang-ti), in 221 BC also knew this when he
gained complete control over all territories in China. To overcome
communication problems caused by multiple dialects used throughout the
newly established empire, the young emperor standardized his nation's
language, as well as, its weights and measures (Britannica 1). This allowed meaning, not pronunciation, to be
conveyed to everyone throughout the new empire no matter what "dialect feature" a person
Japan also recognized the value of communication, because in the
3rd century it adopted China's written form of language as their own and called it
kanji--Chinese characters (Britannica
Although the Japanese vocabulary was different from that of the Chinese, Japan was
able to use kanji to standardize its written language as well. I know from personal
speakers of Japanese
may not speak or understand Chinese, however, they can grasp the essence of some
written Chinese because most kanji have the same meaning in both
As for English, I am aware that it is a living, breathing language that
has evolved over many centuries and it will continue to evolve no matter what we do. I've even heard, and agree, that
the language we use today will not exist in ten thousand years, and it
surely will not as we know it today come the next millennium. But I see no reason to hasten the death of English by
acknowledging "dialect features" such as "up'err" and "nalcom"
as part of the English language. Maybe I'm being a little
overdramatic with this, because dialect is simply colloquial speech used
in specific regions of our country, and certainly such speech is
understood by those familiar with the specific dialect, but for outsiders,
such speech may be foreign.
However, I do agree with Associate English
Professor Daniel Moshenberg when he said
we should not judge intelligence by the way a person speaks. I too know
of no correlation between pronunciation and intelligence. But I
wonder what would happened if a person had never learned standard English and
then tried to communicate to outsiders using only his or her native
(English) dialect. Would he or she be understood? Maybe; that is, as long as his or her
dialect wasn't too strong. But if it was, I fear not, especially if
the communication was in the form of writing.
I think people are more lenient to a person's speech as apposed to
a person's writing; except maybe
when lives are at risk. I also believe we all have some form of
dialect in our speech, which is to be expected. For me, northeast by way of the
I still catch myself saying "y'all" and "yonder," but I
also say "yunze" and "up'err."
But when it comes
to writing, I agree with all my past English instructors who've said that
we do not and should not write the way we speak. There are of course
exceptions to this rule. For instance, when we're writing dialogue or when we're
attempted to create some special effect. But normally when we write
term papers, stories, business
letters, reports, etc., we try to write
clearly enough to convey our message so we won't be misunderstood. We should
also try to eliminate any ambiguity
or grammar flaws in our writing, and we should watch for misplaced modifiers that could lead to
misinterpretations. ("Gosh, this is beginning
to scare me. I'm starting to
sound like my instructors.")
Although I believe Professor Hazen is right to
suggest a teacher shouldn't try to correct a student's speech, I don't
think a teacher should discourage a student from learning standard English. But
then what of the question, "who has the right to say one dialect is
better than another?" I concede to this question by simply
saying no one has this right. Dialect maybe fine around family and friends, but in my opinion, a person who can
articulate him or herself meaningfully through written or verbal
expressions is armed for success in a world reliant on skilled