How true is it that the context of situation is a stimulant of communicative meaning? What are examples from Arabic to English?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It is certainly true that the context of situation is a stimulant of communicative meaning. In fact, the context of situation determines the meaning of a text. Context of situation refers to ways in which language is used that influence "both how we use language and how it is received" (Hu, "Context of Situation in Translation"). In 1974, Dell Hymes, a sociolinguist, created the acronym S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G to analyze language within its cultural context.

The letter S stands for "Setting and Scene" (Appalachian State University, "Dell Hymes's SPEAKING Model"). Just like in literature, setting is the time and place in which a story takes place; in linguistics, setting is the time and place in which a communication takes place. Appalachian State University provides us with an example: "the living room in the grandparents' home might be a setting for a family story" ("Dell Hymses's"). Hymes defined scene as the "psychological setting" or "cultural definition" of a setting. For example, if a family's story is told during a celebration, then certain behaviors are assumed, such as the need to be "festive and playful," which will impact how the story is both communicated and received ("Dell Hymses's"). In general, people identify certain behaviors as being either appropriate or inappropriate in a given scene, which changes how language is communicated and received.  

The letter P in the acronym stands for "participants," which refers to either the language speaker or the audience receiving the communication. Differences in who speaks the communication and who hears the communication again significantly influence how the communication is both expressed and received. For example, if an aunt were telling the family story mentioned above and only communicating it to the women at the celebration, the aunt may put a slant on the story that's more applicable to a female gender role.

The letter E stands for "ends," which Hymes defines as the "purposes, goals, and outcomes" ("Dell Hymes's"). How a communication is expressed and received will change significantly as the purpose of the communication changes. For example, if the aunt's purpose in telling the family story above is to teach a moral lesson to the women in the family, then her tone and points of emphasis will change.

The other letters in the acronym stand for "Act Sequence," "Key," "Instrumentalities," "Norms," and "Genre," and further show how tone, style, social rules, and the type of discourse all influence how something is communicated.  

When looking at how context of situation influences the translation of Arabic into English or English into Arabic, one could consider how differences in political views, religion, cultural customs, and cultural views will all influence the meaning of a communication.

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