Fifth Kiss - Do you speak English? Which one?
If you have watched at least some episodes of The Big Bang Theory you will certainly remember Sheldon Lee Cooper, one of the three main characters of the series. Totally immersed in his abstract world, Sheldon is unable to use colloquial or even informal English while speaking with his mates and he expresses himself exclusively in an academic register, with hilarious effects.
The linguistic register
In linguistics, register determines the level of formality/informality of our communication and depends on the situation and the status of our interlocutor. At the higher end we have an aulic register to be reserved for dignitaries whereas at the lower end we have an informal or colloquial register for friends and relatives. Young people extensively resort to slang, a jargon which tends to be totally incomprehensible for anyone who is not part of their age group.
An example: the usage of YOU for "tu/lei"
As is well-known, contemporary English does not feature any polite form corresponding to the pronoun “LEI” in Italian: YOU is universally applied to both family members and the President of the Republic. However, you should not be deluded by this greater informality, as there are some very distinctive register indicators you must be fully aware of if you do not want to be perceived as out of tune when you speak or write.
In my previous post I have already explained that the English vocabulary encompasses both terms of Anglo-Saxon and of Latin origin. The latter were often taken from French and have a more noble origin since French was the language used by the elite; they are still to be found mainly in formal and academic settings.
History is set in words, which survive for centuries.
In the food domain, for instance, may concepts can be expressed through two alternative nouns based on the context: farmers in the fields raise cows, calves e pigs, but waiters in restaurants serve beef, veal e pork. Similarly, in many cases the same action can be described both though a verb of Latin origin and an Anglo-Saxon phrasal verb, with a potential impact on register. In general, phrasal verbs are more frequently used in informal situations, but you need to be very sensitive to the English language to grasp the connotations of each of them (for example, get away with is definitely more informal than elude, but this is not the case for the two synonyms rule out/exclude).
The value of the Communication Coach
Verbal contractions obviously belong to the informal style, not only in writing but also in oral communication. In official situations rather use the extended form (I will instead of di I’ll). If you stress the verb, though, you risk giving an unintended emphasis. In all these cases, the support of a Communication Coach specialised in Presentation Skills in English may prove to be the winning strategy because an incorrect intonation may lead to misunderstandings and embarrassing situations.
Some essential guidance: in informal speech sentences are usually longer and grammatical structure more convoluted, with passive forms and a more refined and specific vocabulary. Conversely, in an informal setting, you are expected to use shorter sentences and a more spontaneous and direct communication.
These tips might seem too challenging to follow, but they are not. In this case, theory is more difficult than practice. We have communicated all along our lives: it is one of the first abilities we acquired as babies. We started using non-verbal communication, then uttering some initial syllables and subsequently full words and meaningful sentences. It is like learning to swim: practice in the pool is far more useful than theory. The Learning by Doing method is conducive to quick acquisition of new skills that will prove to be extremely useful for the rest of your life.
I would like to conclude with a remark on style. Based on the context and their communicative needs, some speakers engage their attendees explicitly and encourage an interactive process. In the past this was characteristic of American speakers, who often ask direct questions to be answered by a show of hands, for instance. It is another possibility to be explored, although it requires a high level of language proficiency and uncommon ease on the podium. There is always some room for improvement, while keeping your message clear.
This concept is summarised in the title of this post. Fifth Kiss is a pun that should not be taken literally (certainly not during social distancing, when kisses are strictly prohibited). It’s my fifth post on the concept summed up in the acronym KISS*, i.e. KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE. A safe compass to effective communication, especially in English.
* “KISS” also stands for Keep it Simple, Stupid…which does not apply here given the high level of our readers.
Have you missed my Fourfh Kiss? No problem…it is still online. Click here.
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