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The Multilingual Communication Environment (e.g. South Africa)

What is the communication environment? And why is it important? Let me try and define it, because I think that it is critical. 

On an obvious level, it is simply the environment in which you speak. But in truth, no environment is simple, and I would say that this is doubly true of a multilingual environment such as the South African communication environment! The SA environment is fraught with conflict and rather full of people who are intolerant toward each other. Now this means that every time a South African opens his or her mouth to speak, there is quite a strong possibility that there will be another someone listening who does not approve of the speaker, what they have to say, or how they say it. And they will react in this way simply because they are not like the speaker and they do not in truth wish to associate with the speaker. Put simply, such an environment is very hostile!  

And this hostility is not limited to racial difference. I have heard male broadcasters criticising female voices, urban speakers criticising rural speakers, older people criticising the youth, traditionalists criticising modernists and so on and so forth. And this is why we so often flounder. Because we try to win such people over, when there is little chance of us ever pleasing them. We try to ‘neaten’ our voices, and adjust our behaviour. We choose to abandon our natural communication ability in order to adopt another that makes us feel uncomfortable but socially accepted. We try to fit in. To impress. And we fail or mess up.  


Because presenting in such an environment is a tough ask of anyone? Because we disconnect from ourselves and our natural strengths and we try and squeeze unfamiliar performances out of disconnected bodies, minds and hearts? Because we capitulate under the weight of the criticisms and expectations that come at us from both outside and inside our cultures. Because we are frightened to go against the adopted mores or rules of the conservative world around us. 

© Donald Woodburn

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