Caring and Sharing

Now, language is an interesting subject, isn’t it? So much of what we talk about at B and W comes down to language – well it would, wouldn’t it, since we’re talking about what gets written and said in academic ‘discourse’ and ‘texts’. Naturally it’s language, what else would it be, mud pies? But it’s interesting all the same.

I mentioned Deborah Cameron the other day, after hearing her with Richard Hoggart on Thinking Allowed. A friend sent me a link to this article of hers, which is an excellent read. Also quite amusing in places.

In the past, the habit of talking about oneself was almost universally decried as impolite, immodest and vulgar. Today’s experts, by contrast, do not regard self-effacement as a virtue…As BT’s ‘better conversations’ booklet puts it: ‘Unless you’re able to recognise your own feelings, you won’t be able to express them clearly and be open with other people.’

Well, maybe, but so what? What makes us all think that other people want us to be open about our feelings? How do we know they don’t want us to shut up about our wretched feelings and talk about something more interesting? Hurrah for people who are closed, and not only don’t express their feelings clearly, but don’t express them at all. Granted, that’s a slight exaggeration. Here I am expressing a feeling right now: exasperation. I’m very clear and open about it; aren’t you pleased?

Multinational corporations may require their employees to import the American English preference for informality into languages like Hungarian, where the distinction between formal and informal address is more strongly marked in the grammar (and where formal address would be the unmarked choice for the context).

Tell me about it. I often feel like a Martian in my own land. Oddly enough, I don’t like it when complete strangers telephone me to sell me something, and to start things off call me by my first name and ask me how I am. I must be Hungarian then.

Will we all consent to become the caring, sharing, self-reflexive, emotionally literate communicators who are currently idealized in both expert and popular literature? Or might we have our own ideas about what makes it ‘good to talk’?

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