Organizational dialects

This post is directed at people who are bilingual, but may be of interest to “uni-linguals” as well.

People who speak more than one language know that it is common to go back and forth between languages. You don’t generally speak either or, but both, using words or sentences or expressions from both languages. (At times, this is funny. Many automobile spare parts are in the German language. Mechanics, Jews and Arabs, often throw in words from 3 languages when describing an issue at the garage).

On a recent trip to the UAE, I got around using the Metro, and observed people mixing between languages (like Hindi and Arabic; Arabic and Persian) like I do between Hebrew and English.

There are words that “belong” in one language, albeit they are translatable. A good example is the word “project”-which is SO English. Or enfant terrible in French, or halas in Arabic. Going back and forth between languages is natural. Speaking ONLY in one language at a time is rare.

Some words mean different things in the same language. “Check it” may mean “take a look” to English speaking Africans. “La” may add emphasis to Singaporean English speakers. “Don’t be late la.” 

Organizations are “multilingual” by nature. There are several languages spoken and /or words mean different things, depending on who is talking and who is being addressed.

Understanding the dialects by carefully dissecting the words/terms can provide a clear understanding of what’s going on.

A few examples will suffice. Strategy can mean “where we are going” to very senior management or “what they want today” to the troops.

“Working more efficiently” may mean better planning by understanding customer needs” or “working us into the ground by not aligning tasks to resources”.

“Diversity” may mean (and often does) mean meeting quotas and avoiding bad press, or less discrimination.

“Customer satisfaction” may be a score as compared to last month, or how do I keep the customer happy given that our product is not performing.

A “deadline” may be what what we will do, or what we say we will do until we fail, and then apologize. 

“Delegation” may mean “I am giving the responsibility to you” or, “my boss is setting me up to fail”.

“Corporate culture” may be seen as the way we strive to do things, or “corporate Kool-Aid”.

A word of advice-go beyond the words, and look at the way key words are used differently by different populations. 













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