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The title of this post is an illustration of the fact that language is much more than words.

In applied linguistics, we say that listening and reading are not passive practices in comprehension, but are active practices in co-constructing meaning with the speaker/writer.  In other words, the way you read that title will heavily depend upon your background, your culture, and even your mood, and will also heavily depend upon what you think you know about my background, culture, and mood.

If you are a labor organizer, or an activist, or if you thought that I’d just been watching Democracy Now, you might read “May Day!” as a rallying cry.

If you live in England, or are interested in Celtic history, or if you thought I was going a little crazy with spring fever, you might read “May Day!” as a joyful exclamation.

If you are a sailor, or just watched a movie where an airplane crashed, or if you knew that I have four days to complete two final projects and I am currently undercaffeinated, you might read “May Day!” as a distress signal.

You could argue that this is particularly true in written communication, where you don’t have the benefit of intonation, facial expressions, and gesture to narrow down the precise way that I’m saying those words.  And since you are reading this at a different time and in a different place than I am writing it, you don’t have all of the context that might help you determine how I’m feeling and what I’m doing at the moment.  So instead of having all of those extra clues, you’re going to have to work pretty hard, and make a lot of assumptions, to construct the meaning of those two words I typed.

Just for the record, I mean all three things.  Please send workers’ rights, sunshine, and coffee ASAP!  May Day!