Intercultural Communication

Course Website for Tunghai FLLD Seminar

Archive for the ‘cultural classifications’ Category

Article on “hyphenated” labels for ethnic groups

Posted by thuicc on August 27, 2008

Saw this article via H-USA, an e-mail list I’m a member of:

Does the institutionalized usage of hyphenated-nationalities help, hurt, or distract a country from more pertinent issues?

America is a country of immigrants.

One side of the American street prides itself on not seeing the person as a combination of ancestral ethnicities but, instead, each individual becomes a culmination of their life experiences.

The other side of the American street takes pride in the achievements of their ancestors and believe their ancestor’s struggles, sacrifices and oppressions are intrinsic to who they are and how America treats/sees them.

This boulevard of contrasting views pervades most aspects of American social laws and policies. Almost every social issue faced by our judicial and/or legislative bodies, on national, state and local levels, have an ethnic/racial purpose or impact and we spend inordinate amounts of time debating, protesting, defending, and balancing these facets.

There is the beginnings of a new movement within our country to re-think the use of ethnic qualifiers to the American nationality. African-American, Hispanic-American, or
your-ethnicity-goes-here-DASH-American is of questionable benefit to the nation’s social fabric and, debatably of course, does more harm to national unity than good.  This same debate was part of the nation’s conversation at the turn of the 20th century when it was the German-Americans, Irish-Americans, and Polish-Americans that qualified their nationality.

In many aspects, where America goes, so goes the world.  Before any other country steps into this pit of social identities, there are some questions the people of that country should ponder:

  1. Are institutionalized hyphenated-nationalities  good for a country’s unity and socio-mentality or is it an institutionalized contradiction to the term “nationality”?
  2. Can you belong to more than one country and, if so, what happens when the two countries have conflicting policies?
  3. Can you maintain the cultures and customs of your ancestral homelands while still assimilating fully into your birth country?
  4. Does the use of hyphenated-nationalities proclaim an aversion to the idea of assimilation?
  5. Is the use of the hyphenated qualification a two edged sword that cuts both ways?  In other words, can you expect your country to treat you different because of your hyphenation but treat you the same despite your hyphenation?

What are the ideas of migration researchers in these points? What influence does the use of hyphenated labels by migration researchers have?

William Myrick Thomas

What do you think? Is the author addressing an important point? Check out the website and see what you think. (Note: I don’t necessarily agree with him myself…)

Posted in cultural classifications, identity, immigration, race, United States, websites | 2 Comments »

More on kinship terms

Posted by thuicc on November 25, 2006

In Thursday’s class, we discussed the different functions of language covered in our textbook. One part of the discussion that was particularly interesting to me was when we compared Chinese and English kinship terms and saw how the use of kinship terms in Chinese affects how English kinship terms are interpreted.

We found, for instance, that if I said, “My uncle is a farmer”, you felt a need to specify in their minds whether that uncle was on my father’s side or mother’s side, and whether the uncle was older or younger than my parent. (Some students automatically thought in terms of a father’s brother, but Weiting said she was closer to her mother’s side of the family, so thought in terms of a mother’s brother.) You also seemed a bit surprised when I suggested that if I said the same sentence to a native speaker of English, that person might (but probably wouldn’t) ask if I meant my father’s or my mother’s brother, and most likely wouldn’t wonder about whether or not the uncle was older or younger than my parent.

The powerful role of kinship terms is also discussed in “The Cultural Connotations and Communicative Functions of Chinese Kinship Terms” (American Communication Journal 3.3 [2000]). Shaorong Huang and Wenshan Jia argue that there are three main communicative functions served by kinship terms in Chinese:

  1. They serve a “linking function,” in that they serve as a way of connecting individuals to their social groups. Huang and Jia point out–as we did in class–that kinship terms are not just used among family members, but are also used to address non-family members.
  2. They serve a “mentation function”–meaning that they are involved in stimulating “the development of higher mental processes.”
  3. For instance, when a child addresses her maternal grandfather by the kinship term of [外祖父] “wai zu fu,” she may at least understand, or try to understand, the following: 1) she has a family relation with the old man, but the old man does not live in her family; 2) as a senior member, the old man has certain power over her, and she must respect and obey him; and 3) comparing with her paternal grandfather, this man is less powerful and less strict with her behavior. The single kinship term works as a stimulus in the child’s mind to help the child go through a complicated cognitive process.

  4. They serve a “regulatory function” because use of kinship terms “helps individuals regulate their personal behavior in speech communication.”

I’m not sure I agree with everything they say in this article (for instance, they imply a uniqueness for the Chinese family system that I’m not sure about–our textbook suggests that Indian kinship terms are also quite complicated). But the points I cited above extend what we were discussing on Thursday about how kinship terms fit into both the naming and the interactional functions of language.

Posted in cultural classifications, cultural patterns, language | 3 Comments »

Individualism and collectivism in our class

Posted by thuicc on October 12, 2006

Well, using the individualism/collectivism survey that we filled out this afternoon, I can come to the following shaky unscientific conclusions about our class.

Our average scores:

Horizontal Individualism: 49.42857

Vertical Individualism: 35.21429

Horizontal Collectivism: 53

Vertical Collectivism: 45.57143

Individualism: 84.64286

Collectivism: 98.57143

So it looks like we’re (you’re, actually–I didn’t include my own results in this) more collectivistic than we are individualistic. I don’t know if the difference is significant or not, though (I’m not a statistician).

Let’s see… what else can I tell you about our individualism and collectivism? Well, 7 people had collectivism scores over 100, and only 1 person had an individualism score over 100 (but that was one of the 7 people whose collectivism score was over 100, so that person seemed to agree with everything…).

You can see more details here: Table

Posted in cultural classifications, cultural patterns | Comments Off on Individualism and collectivism in our class

Some sites related to cultural patterns

Posted by thuicc on October 12, 2006

Here are some sites related to the section of chapter 2 on cultural patterns

Posted in cultural classifications, cultural patterns, websites | Comments Off on Some sites related to cultural patterns

An article about cross-cultural advertising

Posted by thuicc on November 20, 2005

Elizabeth Würtz has written an article entitled “A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Websites from High-Context Cultures and Low-Context Cultures” that was published recently in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. She looks particularly at McDonald’s websites from different countries and how the visual design of those websites reflected high-context or low-context cultural values. You might want to take a look at this article if you’re interested in the topic of transnational advertising.

Comments on it?

Posted in advertising, cultural classifications, media, websites | Comments Off on An article about cross-cultural advertising

Lotsa responses

Posted by thuicc on October 6, 2005

Here are the responses I made–and some I didn’t get to–in today’s class discussion.

  • Most people got the idea (which I think is true) that Althen has a somewhat “white” view of what Americans are like. He argues in another part of his book that “The predominant ideas, values, and behaviors of “mainstream” Americans are those of the white middle class. People in that category have long held the large majority of the country’s most influential positions. They have been the political and business leaders, the university presidents, scientists, journalists, and novelists who have successfully exerted influence on the society. American culture as talked about in this book, then, has been strongly influenced by white middle-class males.” (xxiv) So he’d argue that what he’s describing is the mainstream of the U.S.
  • As people said, the “Communication Patterns” article gives us a view that while (if Althen is correct) white middle-class males might represent the mainstream, there are a lot of other kinds of groups with different values and practices. Jen used the term “multiple generalizations” to describe the article. As Erica mentioned, there’s a shift between the contrast of Americans with the “outside” world in Althen to looking at contrasts within the U.S. in the “CP” article.
  • As I mentioned, to be fair to Althen, his book contains more than just the chapter on communication styles. But one thing he doesn’t do in his chapter on race and ethnic relations is try to account for racial/ethnic factors that might affect communication styles. (I’ll put this book in the dept library later)
  • Regarding a comment by Evonne about Asian Americans (I think) use of eye contact: what might account for the differences you mention between the article’s description of Asian Americans avoiding eye contact for too long and what you describe as your view that it’s important to look at speakers of elders while they’re talking? (How/where did you learn that it’s polite to do this? I’m thinking of how we might try to figure out what might account for the difference you see.) Ceilia suggested, for instance, that the “experts” who wrote the article might have been coming from the “outside” of the culture, so would see things differently. She also mentioned that the experts might learn things from other experts. (There are a lot of things we could say about that…)
  • Stephanie suggests that Althen is writing with “a pretty high ego” when he describes Americans. What might give you that sense? Any particular passage you could point to?

OK–I could comment a lot more, but this post is already too long! I’ll have more to say later in the semester. (Jennifer’s comment has me thinking about something related to face, for instance…)

Posted in cultural classifications, cultural patterns, identity, race, stereotyping, United States, whiteness | 9 Comments »

Two “old” posts about ethnicity and communication styles

Posted by thuicc on October 6, 2005

Too old (er… two old) posts about ethnicity and communication styles from a previous ICC class. Take a look:

  • Ethnicity and “American” and “Chinese” Communication Styles–in this post I asked my fellow interculturalists from last year “Why do people often equate European American communication styles and American communication styles?” Or, to put it less politely, why do the Americans described in American Ways sound so “white”? And they gave lots of answers… (There’s even some mention regarding the eye contact issue.)
  • Representing American Culture–in this post, I summarized some ideas about why American culture seems to be represented as the same thing as “white” culture, including the idea of “white privilege”…

Posted in cultural classifications, cultural patterns, whiteness | 3 Comments »

Comments about Althen and the “Communication Patterns” article

Posted by thuicc on October 1, 2005

Remember to read “Communication Patterns and Assumptions of Differing Cultural Groups in the United States” and post your comments on how this text changes the view of “typical” American communication styles described in Althen’s book. (Due Oct. 4)

Posted in course admin, cultural classifications, cultural patterns | 16 Comments »

Chinese-[insert ethnicity here] food

Posted by thuicc on September 29, 2005

An interesting article was published in the New York Times recently: “Craving Hyphenated Chinese” by Julia Moskin discusses the different varieties of Chinese food that are available in New York City. By “different varieties” I don’t mean just Cantonese or Sichuanese… I mean (and Moskin writes about) Chinese-Peruvian food, Chinese-Mexican food, and even Chinese-Norwegian food!

For example, Moskin describes a Chinese hot dog invented by Kevin Cohnen, the owner of a kosher Chinese restaurant. The Chinese hot dog consists of “a kosher beef frank encased in an eggroll wrapper and deep-fried. The result is crusty, incredibly juicy and excellent with hot mustard, either New York deli or Chinese style.” (There’s an image of that Chinese hot dog here.) Another example of a hybrid Chinese-[] food is a Chinese-Peruvian dish called Lomo saltado, which Moskin describes as “a savory stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes, seasoned with soy sauce” that “is sometimes served over French fries”.

As Moskin writes,

The roots of these hybrid Chinese cuisines around the world are the same as those of Chinese food in America. Millions of Chinese men, most of them from the province Guangdong (formerly known in English as Canton), left China in the late 19th and early 20th century. Only men were allowed to leave the country, often by becoming indentured workers to companies in need of cheap labor in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America.Professional cooks were usually not among the emigrants, so the earliest Chinese restaurants outside China were started by men with little knowledge of cooking and a desperate need to improvise with local ingredients. The dishes they came up with, like chop suey, have long since been dismissed as “not Chinese” by scholars of the culture.

But Chinese food has never been quite what outsiders think it is.

“The term Chinese food represents an area four times larger than Western Europe and the eating habits of more than a billion people,” Mr. Kwan said. “You could say that there is really no such thing as Chinese food.”

Eugene Anderson, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of “The Food of China,” disagrees. “Chinese food is defined by a flavor principle of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and green onions” and methods including stir-frying and steaming, he said. “Once you get too far away from those rules, it is no longer Chinese.”

What do you think about the arguments of Anderson and Kwan? Is there such a thing as “pure’ Chinese food?

And (since we’re studying intercultural communication) how might this discussion of Chinese cuisine relate to how we might understand our own identities? Is it possible to identify Chinese people (or American people, or…) and Chinese (or American) communication by some sort of principle similar to Anderson’s “flavor principle”?

(article found via Mixed Media Watch, an interesting blog that discusses how the media represents mixed people)

Posted in Asia, cultural classifications, food | Comments Off on Chinese-[insert ethnicity here] food

A business website’s view of cross-cultural differences

Posted by thuicc on August 29, 2005

This page, from a business website, summarizes some differences between Chinese and Americans. What do you think about this list–both its content and the way in which it’s presented? We’ll discuss these issues in class this semester.

It might also be useful to take a look at the site from which this page comes: Managing Cross-Cultural Differences, to see what assumptions the authors have about culture and communication.

(link via the Musing under the Tenement Palm blog)

Posted in business, cultural classifications, cultural patterns, websites | Comments Off on A business website’s view of cross-cultural differences