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Much of what gets communicated between speakers and listeners (or writers and readers) is affected by who they are. When we open our mouths to speak, the nature of the sounds that come out (i.e. our accent), our choice of words and grammar (i.e. dialect) and even which language we use indirectly provide the listener with a lot of information about us. This includes the following:

  • Geographical origin — where we're from, not just within a country but where in the world our speech locates us.

  • Social background – what level of society we are from. In some places, this aspect is more important than geographical information.

  • Ethnic or community membership — in some societies, the way we speak marks us out as belonging to a particular ethnic, religious or social grouping.

  • Age, gender, sexuality and other (e.g. political or other conviction-based) identities — these can also be indicated by the way we use language. In some cultures, women and men are expected to use language differently from each other, for example, and contravention of the unwritten 'rules' (for example use of first names or taboo language) can lead to serious consequences for individuals.

  • Language spoken — in some parts of the world, which language you speak marks you out as the member of a particular ethnic, religious or social grouping.

All of the above can have immediate, emotional and often unrecognised effects on our hearers who may find themselves hating, distrusting or suspecting the person with the wrong accent, dialect or language before they have even processed what has been said. Of course, this is not always the case. Many people relish hearing language that differs from their own and celebrate linguistic diversity. But where language does produce adverse reactions, it is dangerous because it is often a trigger for negative actions which can escalate into actual conflict.

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