Intercultural Communication

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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.

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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

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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

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What I want you to think about for next week

Posted by thuicc on September 29, 2006

Yesterday we ended up the class by identifying some of the cocultures we find in Taiwan and some of the stereotypes the dominant culture has about these cocultures. For next week, I’d like you to think about how the cultures/cocultures you belong to affect your communication with people from other cocultures.

For instance, I mentioned that you’re all English majors in Taiwan, and you’ve been trained to write and speak in particular styles of academic English. Can you think of any examples of how your membership in this coculture might have affected your communication style and your communication with people who are not English majors? (You’re welcome to respond on this blog, also.)

Posted in assignments, cultural patterns, identity | 4 Comments »

Other reflections on today’s class activity?

Posted by thuicc on September 22, 2006

Below you can post any thoughts you have about today’s ‘mock’ intercultural activity.

One thing I thought of was in reaction to what Teresa and Rachel were saying about their experience trying to end the conversation. As you know from Speaking Naturally (actually, did you use that textbook in Freshman English?), preclosings are an important part of a conversation. They signal that the conversation is going to end. The “I’ll buy you lunch” series of exchanges is a kind of preclosing/closing. But Rachel didn’t know how to respond properly to that, so it made the conversation go on, rather awkwardly, it sounds.

This reminds me of something similar that happened to me a few years ago. My wife asked me to call some of her students (junior high-age kids) to give them a little practice talking to a “foreigner” on the phone. Most of the kids tried to get off the phone as quickly as possible, but one talked to me for a long time (about 20 minutes). When I wanted to get off the phone, I said to her, “Well, it’s been nice talking to you” as a preclosing. But she took it as a statement evaluating her conversation performance and responded, “Really? I was worried that my English wouldn’t be good enough….” So I had to respond by saying that her English was actually pretty good, and then she responded to that, and… Anyway, the point is that although her ability to talk in English was fine, she missed the “cultural cue” of a particular kind of preclosing.

Any other thoughts or observations about today’s activity?

Posted in course admin, cultural patterns | 4 Comments »

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 »

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

Stereotypes about American and Asian Cultures

Posted by thuicc on August 24, 2005

Michael Turton has a good post on his blog, responding to a Taipei Times article about differences in how Euro-Americans and Chinese “process visual data differently”. He exposes some of the dangers of jumping to conclusions about cultures based on a particular kind of study. We’ll read this in class at some point, so check it out!

Update: There’s also a discussion about this article on Savage Minds, an anthropology blog.

Posted in anthropology, Asia, cultural classifications, cultural patterns, stereotyping, websites | Comments Off on Stereotypes about American and Asian Cultures