Work App: The Universality of Language

Work App: The Universality of Language

One of my past jobs involved foreign personnel escorts. When a ship came into port and a sailor from a different county, without the proper credentials for entering the United States needed to come onto land, while at port they could be escorted by an indigenous Security officer. They can go into town and acquire the necessary goods they need. These sailors were from all over the world, in the span of two years I probably escorted over 150 sailors from 17 different countries. Most of whom could not speak any English.  I thought it was interesting that even though there was a language barrier that may has well been 1000 foot brick wall, it was still relatively easy to perceive the meaning of the words through the emotions emitted by the foreigner.

When I spoke with the people that could speak broken English, I noticed that the context of what I was saying was being lost in translation due to lexical ambiguity. (Goldstein, 2011) When I would say something like, “we need to jump on that as soon as we can.” I was meaning to my coworkers that we needed to get to the next group of foreigners that needed escorted onto land as soon as we were done with the group we were currently dealing with. Some foreigners that could slightly catch some of what I was saying thought it was weird that I was telling my coworkers we needed to jump on someone, in the literal sense.

I think that this example highlights the understanding that words are influenced by the context you use them with in a sentence. These foreign individuals, although we are communicating, many of the meanings are lost in translation because the meaning of what I’m saying is based on semantic (word meanings) and syntax (rules for using words). I had a conversation with a man who was Greek and he was telling me about language barriers and he said there was an article he read in college stating a scientist made claims the language of Native Americans were too big a barrier to overcome. He believed Native Americans had different concepts for time, distance, and so on. I looked up the article and it’s based on how you think. The article stated your language shapes how you think.

It’s interesting to see how important language is to each of us, no matter what language we speak. As important as it is to understand the semantics and syntax, it’s also important to understand the emotion we put into our language.


Goldstein, E.B. (2011).  Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Third Ed. Belmont, CA. Wasdworth, Cengage Learning.



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