…g on the defnition for ‘normal’ in this context as: ‘no overt offence intended or to be inferred’.) I am SO interested in how difficult it can be sometimes, no matter how carefully one tries otherwise, to ensure that the message you want to send can be received and interpreted. This case being a minor example. It is noteworthy to me that this clarification on my position is o…
Peas in a pod?
Ditto! I’m fascinated with meaning: ‘where’ it resides and who decides what it is :)
However, I have surrendered my attachment to discursive control. That’s my label for the overall desire to ensure another person receives exactly the message you’re trying to send. The evidence in interpersonal and especially intercultural communication is overwhelming: the receiver decides meaning. The giver, therefore, has a range of choices: clarifying, arguing, growing, ignoring etc. The idea that a message can be crafted so that it only conveys a singular pre-determined and unambiguous meaning is a myth.
As a professional interpreter, I’m trained to put my neck out there with my best understanding of what people mean. That’s basically what I did in creating my reply to you; I paraphrased and summarized in order to make evident how I was making sense of what you wrote.
The places where you felt I was only close but not quite on it are, I dare to propose, basic examples of normal communication in which precise and accurate shared meaning is developed and refined through the course of interaction. If we conducted a survey of the range of meanings that are possible and probable from any exact quote, I suspect we’d discover certain interpretations are common with occasional wild/surprising variation(s).
You might, in the course of such a feedback process about any particular quote, imagine other ‘better’ ways to say what you meant, but any such effort will still result in another range of reasonable possible meanings determined by the perception of the reader. At any rate, all one can do when feeling misinterpreted is make a choice among discursive options. So…
To me, what’s at issue is the end-goal, and figuring out how to achieve it. As I read your logic, it appears you think that choosing not to ask a ‘where are you from’ question might subtly inspire an inequal relationship by stigmatizing those who (for instance) don’t know about this (possibly) changing norm. These ‘innocents’ ask the question and . . . e.g., terrible things happen to them.
IF the field was actually already level, I might agree with you. But we’re addressing a context in which the overt evidence is that a hierarchy is already in place. So I’m on the side of a corrective. Perhaps it's an overcorrection, in which case over time this will get sorted out. Honestly, I can’t imagine that people will stop asking the question!
But maybe folks can become a bit more aware and sensitive to why it can be a problematic question. Then they can consider when is the right time to ask, and why. Meanwhile, those on the receiving end of such questions have their own senses attuned to how (when, ‘why’ or to what end) the question is asked. I have confidence they’ll be able to distinguish the ‘innocents’ who really want to build a relationship with them from those who are perpetuating assumptions about who is/isn’t an American or are otherwise limited by what an American ‘looks like’ or some such prejudice that is what makes the question offensive.
There’s much more in my head in response to your reply; I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am? It’s a pleasure to engage with someone with clear opinions and obvious knowledge who is also open to careful, thoughtful communication.