12.28.2004

Language, Context, Warfare

I am quite fond of Suzette Hayden Elgin's blog, as I was of her emailings and her Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense. But potential problems arise for readers who do not read guardedly.

First, she points out herself (and I don't think it can be overemphasized):
Context matters here; context always matters. It's possible to construct many different scenarios that would provide different meanings for the example.

Find out the extra layers of meaning, but remember that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or in a different context, maybe the cigar a symbol of cancer, or of prosperity, or of...

...which is to say: Take in the whole. There is no easy or simple formula that applies to all situations, but rather each situation or context provides its own formula of interpretation. So do break language down, but build it back up again and make sure all the parts are fitting.

Second, don't consider language warfare or you'll constantly feel on or under attack. Play the peacemaker. As Elgin herself suggests in one entry:
I suggest that [the person who feels an unstated question is truly being asked] say "Why do you ask?" or "Why do you say that?" -- with their full attention and with neutral intonation.

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