My Language World

My Language World

If there was one thing that everyone in the world had, it would be language. Whether if it was English, Chinese, French, sign language, body language or even just an expression through someone’s eyes. Everyone that is living has a language that they could communicate in.

So, what is my language? Where does my language come from? Why do I communicate in the way I do and how exactly does my language appear to others? These are questions that has never come across my mind before but now seems so important to me. To some extend, it defines who I am, why I am who I am and how have I become who I am. The hardest and most important thing to understand is people, I thought it would be the best to start with myself. I’m going to start with my language, to understand my language first and thus to understand better who I actually am and why.

I was born in China and only started using English as a way of communication at the age of 9 when I moved to the Netherlands. So English was never my first language and I found out that my English is actually heavily influenced by different people and culture. I learnt English through simply mimicking others. I’ll hear a word, remember it, use it, and then be told that it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant and repeat. So the first fundamental level of my vocabulary was actually just words that I heard people using. I started off with a very Chinese accent, but then it became Australian because my friend was Australian. Later on it became British because my teacher was British and so on. As a non native speaker of English, my English has always depended on the people around me rather than myself until grade 6.

To understand better, I interviewed my parents, a not very close friend that I knew for 2 years and my best friend that I’ve known for 3 years about their language and my language. All in all, I can generally categorise my language into 2 different parts that ultimately makes up the ‘Joyce’ expressions. Chinese expressions and the influences from others which is then altered in some ways that becomes a part of my language. For example the word ‘Jeez’. A newly developed slang usually used to express your annoyance toward a certain person or event in a jokey way. I got this from my best friend Sara Kobayashi who used it mostly toward events that she wasn’t very fond of. However, when I picked up this word into my vocabulary, it became more toward a person than an event. It would be used in a way like “Jeez Sara” when I’m joking with them about something that they did or said. The tone of which I say that phrase would of course differ in terms of the person and situation as well.

I’ve also realised that my pitch is slightly lower when I’m speaking English compared to Chinese. This seems to happen a lot to non native speakers of a language where they speak in a different pitch. I think this is because learning a new language means taking a new approach to an area that you have never touched upon, it’s like starting all over again thus having a different way of speaking as if you were a different person. My English sometimes tends to be somewhat defensive when talking to friends and I use phrases like “Actually though” that drags on, and “I’m not even kidding” etc. I think this is because I wasn’t very confident with my English and therefore I’ve always been scared that the other person won’t listen to my points or be convinced, so I used my tones to make it sound more convincing which then just became a habit. A very common body language that I use when expressing an idea is a hand gesture that rolls outwards. This is also because of the reason above. I’m subconsciously trying to push the idea out and am almost trying to force an idea into my audience because I’m concerned that they won’t listen to me.

At the beginning when I first started learning English, it would take me quite a bit of time for me to find the word that I wanted to use. So I filled those time gaps with filler words like “Ummm” or “like”. Which has just gradually developed into a habit overtime. I use a wide range of pitches, sound effects and exaggerated body language to assist my communication with others as well. This is because I want to make sure the other person understands 100% what I’m trying to convey and plain words just doesn’t seem to be enough for me. The way I talk also differs amongst my different friends and social groups. For example with one friend that I’m very close to, I would be a lot more relaxed and wouldn’t filter and care as much about what I say compared to someone that I need to maintain a reputation in front of. My tone would also be a lot more aggressive and defensive with a certain group of friends that often jokes around with no limits. I feel comfortable to sound like that because I know they are aware that I don’t actually mean entirely what I say and I’m joking too.

My accent also tends to change when presenting or recording. I usually have a rather American accent but when I’m in a formal situation such as presenting in front of the class or recording an audio of myself, my accent changes into a very British accent. At first I didn’t know why that happened but now after giving it a bit of thoughts, I think it is because the stereotype of a British accent to a non native speaker that it just seems more serious and formal. My accent has changed a lot and it changed the different opinions people had on me too. When I had a British accent, people tend to think that I was very posh; when I had a very diverse accent, people just thought I was kind of weird and unique because I combined all these different accents together although I was just speaking based on what I’ve heard.

In the process of developing my English, I found some words or phrases that sounded very harsh and stern to me, so I changed it up a bit to make it my own saying and made it sound a lot more softer in my own way. For example the word “No” that is used to reject or refuse something. I find this word very harsh when you just reply “no.” It makes you hard to approach and give an impression that you are rather stern. So like most people, I would use the phrase “Nah” rather than”no”. I would also add a short sentence after “Nah” based on the context. For example if someone asked me if I wanted a certain thing and I didn’t, I would say “Nah, I’m good thanks.” Another unique phrase that I use with “No” is when I talk to my close friends and I would say “No” followed by their name when I’m being sarcastic or when they say something rather stupid/out of expectation. For example Sara might ask me if we wanted to go to the seaside for a swim when she has a tendency to drown easily, then I would reply; “No Sara, we’re only 14 we’re not supposed to die YET.” My pitch would also change throughout the phrase to emphasise on some certain words or to build on the emotion that is expressed through the sentence. My language is very similar to the people of my own age because of the environment I’m in, using terms like “Dude” and etc. However I use them slightly different from how the majority uses it but I’ll go into more details next time. Maybe in another blog where I’ll list all the origins of my phrases.

The other aspect that I need to consider when thinking about my language is texting. Texting is a big part of my communication as nowadays people tend to talk online more and the way people talk online is very different than speaking to each other, because you do not have any body languages or tones online. Words, and only words. I would use lots of capital letters to exaggerate since the other person wouldn’t necessarily know what your tone would be if you were talking to them face to face. I would also use punctuation to assist my communication. People that know me well would know that when I start putting full stops after sentences then that means I’m really upset, “~” would indicate that I’m very excited or happy and “…” would indicate I’m annoyed or unsure about something etc. The last thing I’m going to talk about is the influence that Chinese had on my English usage. For example, in texting I would always say “tsk tsk” which I picked up from a friend. It’s an onomatopoeia that I use very often along with “aiyo”. I think this is because I find these words very familiar as there are similar words in Chinese that expresses the same meaning. In texting, I also uses the phrase “I refuse” very often. It is a direct translation from Chinese and the word “refuse” makes it sound very serious but then when I use it it’s almost ironic where I actually use it in a very casual situation.

All in all, after taking some time to think about my language thoroughly, I’ve come to a conclusion that my English is heavily influenced by 2 factors; the people around me, and what I think of the language itself and I think this should go for the majority of the English speaking community. From birth we’ve always learnt to learn from mimicking, but no one can mimic another person 100% accurately, and that is when our own language that only belongs to us develops, it is through someone else’s language where we discover our own. We also say things in a certain way because of who we are and our backgrounds. Which is what makes our language belong to us and only us. I think this is the most important part of language; to understand better who you are and who the people around you are. It is so important to understand ourselves first, first off, why do I speak the way I do?