Use of language often influences the perceptions we form of other people Essay

At some point in our lives, every single one of us has stereotyped an individual or a group of people before we have even met them, be it a negative or positive perception. Then after communicating with them we find ourselves asking ‘how the hell did I ever assume they would act in that way? ‘ Often they don’t act in a way that is a good fit with our original perception Even when we communicate with a person, we are often too busy analysing their dialect, social class ethnicity etc. to even notice the message they are actually trying to put across to us.

Before we get to know a person, we can usually actually see their age, ethnicity, gender (hopefully) and sometimes their social class (unfortunately). When we consider someone’s age we usually assume that the younger they are, the more energetic they are. We also assume that an older person is wiser and more conservative than a younger person. This is because society views the young as vibrant and fresh with ideas but the elderly as wise because they have gained more experience through life. Therefore these ‘ideas’ of how we should behave according to our age directly influence our perception of the people we meet.

For example we would not expect an 80 year old to dance at a club, or an 18-year to play cards and reminisce old times on a Friday night. These ideas influence the way we respond to people; a young person would never address another young friend in a very formal accent. This is hypercorrection as we are altering our speech and what we say to suit our audience and this does not just apply to the stereotypical view of age. We are often influenced by social class, for example we would usually address someone from a rich boarding school in a different way to someone from a local rough school in the middle of the city.

We would also make assumptions about their lives, the way they act and what they are interested in and therefore we would use hypercorrection to connect with them on their ‘level’. Although it is difficult to make assumptions of when one individual would use hypercorrection, as we do not know if they are using just their registered code. If they share the same interests as the person/group they will use this code if not they will use hypercorrection so it is difficult to judge if they are using hypercorrection to appear like registered code, unless the personality of the individual is known.

The theories of how we respond to people that we have perceptions of, does not take into account our individual differences. Our culture can also play a huge part in the way we perceive other people from different ethnic backgrounds. The white culture is very much bias towards our colour for example black sheep is used metaphorically to describe someone who does no good whilst a white wedding is a symbol of chastity and culture. The fact that the white culture keeps reinforcing the same meaning with these signs proves to us that this culture unconsciously perceives other ethnicities in a negative way.

Fortunately these signs are not automatically translated into these negative meanings by the youth of today. These signs are not meant to be racist in the present day, but were geared to be positive towards the white culture in the past. Other cultures have similar sayings or beliefs. For instance, in China, white is a sign of bad luck and in some Indian tribes white can mean death. When communicating with a person from a different ethnic background this can play a part in how we act towards them.

We perceive them as different from us therefore we act more conservatively in order not to offend them and conversation is usually brought to neutral ‘ground’. Our language makes us automatically form perceived concepts of other people from other cultures when in fact they are just the same as us; for example a lack of understanding of the views of a different culture can sometimes lead to conflict and confrontation. Apart from differences between people, gender differences can also influence our perceptions.

The whole English language is Andocentric; it is controlled by men and used to support their dominance of men over women. The English language has changed to this because of stereotypical views and old fashioned values. But these still unconsciously influence our perceptions on the opposite gender today. The language we use is incredibly biased as it shows women to be weak whilst men to be strong; for example the Master of a house would indicate powerfulness whilst the Mistress of the house would indicate an affair, the Host of the house would indicate ownership of the house whilst Hostess would indicate a maid or waiter.

These words that are meant to have the same meaning for both male and female end up having completely opposite meanings showing the true imbalance of the English languages perception of gender difference. In a major or minor way, this influences our perception of the opposite gender even today. The majority of views still do not consider females as strong and masterful or males as graceful and gentle. This creates stereotypes and when a person of a gender does not conform to this we are often surprised by this and usually our perceptions that were influenced by our preconceived gender ideas are totally wrong!

Whether its age, ethnicity, gender or social class that is influencing our perception of people, we are still making assumptions of them. We do this consciously and subconsciously but perhaps more consciously if it is someone completely different from us. However we have to ask ourselves are these assumptions a bad ‘idea’? If we did not have preconceived ideas of people perhaps we would be more forthcoming and less conservative in interaction causing more friction between different types of people.

If the use of language influences our perception to such an extent that we change the way we speak (hypercorrection) and act, then perhaps we do this more than we think. Perhaps we are constantly changing ourselves to fit in with those around us and have no real social group where everyone is the same as us (using the same registered code). Perhaps we are only our real selves when we are alone as we cannot form perceptions of those around us, so we cannot be influenced by them.

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