The language barrier

Language is the main means through which people communicate. Ironically, it is also the main means through which people fail to communicate.

This problem exists both in an intranational as in an international context.

We do not understand each other although we speak -or think that we speak- the same language or we do not understand each other because we do not speak the same language. In the former case we increasingly have to deal with specific terminology or jargon (think of our diversified business community). In the latter case, we of course have to take into account that there are a great many different languages in the world.

The most funny or embarrassing situations (depending on your personal point of view) occur when we think that we speak the same language.

An example: When the Netherlands was chairman of the European Union, the government officials often declined the service of the available interpreters, because the officials thought that their knowledge of English -one of the most frequently official languages in the EU- was sufficient.

When, after a lively discussion, the Dutch government official wanted to know what his English counterpart thought of his particular opinion, he asked: “Are you standing behind my point?” His English counterpart had a crushing reply: “I’m not standing behind anything; I’m sitting in a chair.”

The devil is in the details…

Of course there are always people who contribute to the confusion on purpose.


In the data quality field, the phenomenon of the use of specific terms and multilingualism plays a very important role as well. Data on personal names, geographic names, company names and names of a wide variety of products are some of the most error-prone components of natural language.

In the coming weeks I will illustrate this thought with some very interesting examples.

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