Intercultural Communication reviewed by Tomás

Intercultural Communication reviewed by Tomás

Hello everyone and welcome
to our very own university bookclub. Today, devoted to the subject
Intercultural Communication and its Applications to Translation. Today, as I say, from Monteporreiro in Pontevedra this beautiful park and promenade
from which I’m speaking and recording myself we’ll try to discuss and draw some conclusions
from the work by Tracy Novinger published in 2001 by University of Texas Press. It’s entitled Intercultural Communication
and it’s a practical guide that will give us a lot of information
about several topics. In particular, it’s intended to be a transversal
and multi-subject book devoted to Linguistics, Translation History of Language
and a little bit of Anthropology. We’ll concentrate on the first two chapters
of the first part. The first part is entitled A Global Approach
to Intercultural Communication and the first and second chapters give us
the whys and whats. Why Intercultural Communication. Why is it important to communicate
across cultures? And the second part,
the second chapter that is to say which is What is Culture? And how to define it. Let’s get to it! In the preface to the book,
before the first chapter Tracy Novinger points out that geographically
the world is shrinking but culturally the world is equally large
as it was a century ago. The means of communication allow us
to be able to reach… countries that are really far away
and cultures that were previously unknow to us. But that is never an impediment because the transport is there and the way to arrive in a different country
evidently is accessible to everyone. The problem comes when we start to discuss and to make disquisitions about cultures. Firstly, we have cultures almost the same as ours but have certain differences
that make some negotiations difficult to finish successfully. Another problem would be negotiating
or doing business with a culture about which we know nothing. In that case, confusions may arise. That is what Intercultural Communication
as a competence or the proficient use
of Intercultural Communication may facilitate nowadays. Novinger, in her first chapter,
explains that there are two kinds of culture. A wide division may be made
between the Low-context cultures that is to say, cultures that rely heavily on words
and not very much on behaviour that is to say, nonverbal language. And on the other side, we have cultures
such as Japan or Mexico to give just two examples which rely very heavily
on nonverbal communication. About this we should make the precision
that there are two types of communication. Two types of message conveyance
that we may put forward. Firstly, there is verbal communication the one that uses the complex code
that we humans have come to master to transform our thoughts into words
and to make them reach an interlocutor. On the other hand, we have nonverbal communication
which does not depend on the code explicitly but consciously or subconsciously is capable
of transferring the message in the same way. However, we may ask ourselves
what happens when low culture low-context culture, that is to say,
and high-context culture encounter one another and are forced to reach some kind of agreement. Well, this happens most of the time and this is precisely what the practical guide
written by Novinger tries to prevent. For example, let’s imagine
that we have a North American a person from the United States trying to understand what a Japanese
or a Mexican person is meaning by saying “no”. Saying “no” directly in Japan
or in Mexico is considered… impolite. And that is not the case in the United States. Someone may say “no”, to be clear,
because they don’t want to do a certain thing. However, a Japanese or a Mexican person
will try to avoid saying “no” to be polite but when they are saying “let me think about it” or by saying “perhaps” they are really meaning “no”. When this comes to the misunderstanding
that would be logical then frustration arises. And, taken to the extreme, this may lead
to violent confrontation. When cultures are really separate
from one another. In the end, as anthropologists
in the 1960s were pointing out already all forms of behaviour are communication but also all forms of communication are behaviour for that reason, we cannot stop communicating
because we cannot stop behaving. For that, communication is done
in spite of ourselves. as Novinger points out at the very beginning. Having mentioned the previous points in order
we may reach the immediate conclusion that culture, as opposed to language is not something that comes to us naturally
or that is inherited in any way. We may state that language is something
that we are programmed genetically to become skilful in and to develop
over a certain period of time. However, it’s not the same with culture whatsoever. With culture, the case is much different
because when we’re brought into this world our parents are already members
of a certain culture and respond to the restrictions, constrictions
and limitations imposed by that precise system. And we, as individuals, start becoming embedded
in the same culture and when we are skilled enough,
then we will become accepted. This approach can be analysed theoretically
following Kenneth Pike’s suggestion that emic and etic are two different visions
of the same phenomenon. For instance if we start from the culture-general approach we may see that it is strange to us,
it is alien to our culture that we use bones to decorate our bodies. However, from an emic perspective,
that is to say, culture-specific as Kenneth Pike points out
and on which Tracy Novinger insists Then, we may ascertain
that bones do not only decorate but have a meaning
and that meaning would be a hierarchy as expressed socially. On the other hand, we may also introduce
another distinction. which is the behaviours
that are socially acceptable for a specific situation, context and social group for instance, the way we eat in public the way we greet some other people if it is “tú” or “usted” in Spanish, for instance. That is a great distinction
even in Spanish-speaking nations. Let’s compare Colombia, which is much more formal with Venezuela, as Tracy Novinger does which, according to her, is much more informal
and egalitarian, let’s call it that. But it also applies to the way one excuses oneself
or to the behaviours that are permitted or the ones for which you are castigated. These limitations that culture imposes
may do anything from deify to incarcerate the individual
who produces these practices. and it is the observation and censorship
of the other individuals that determines which of these fates is possible
and most probable. With all the information we have gathered
up to this point we see that it’s not only Translation
or Intercultural Communication itself that may be applicable to the whole theory but also, and more specifically,
Pragmatics as a part of Linguistics. Pragmatics is more interested
in answering the question What do you mean by “X”?
instead of saying what “X” means. That would be a question of Syntax
or maybe Semantics. When we talk about Pragmatics
related to communication we are probably remembering things previously said by Austin or Searle. The acts of communication and the acts of language the difference between those two. Implicatures and also Grice’s maxims. But all of this as a whole… coincides with Goffman’s theory of face that is to say, the way
that communication in public affects us and the way we affect others
in public communication and the establishment of our own identity. Also, according to Sowell’s recent opinion in a book he published in 1994 isolation and stagnation accompany cultures which prefer not to communicate
rather than be open to others. Tracy Novinger identifies optimism, dynamism and the ability to have an open culture with the possibility of communicating
interculturally. One’s identity is established
by the way others judge his own acts but it’s also dependent
on the special characteristics of that particular culture. Two cultures, as we pointed out at the beginning,
may be so far apart that only one of the aspects
that come into consideration apart from its history,
its political organisation, its religion its traditions, its customs
and many other details such as the movements of one’s hands,
the direction of one’s glance, etc. are very influential
on the way one thinks of himself and the way one may have the epiphany
of being able to see oneself after coming into contact with a new culture. The final conclusion of this section,
covering chapters one and two of Novinger’s book would be as follows. Intercultural Communication is a must
in the modern world but Intercultural Communication
needs collaboration between two. The last part of this presentation includes
a synthesis of chapters one and two of Novinger’s work, Intercultural Communication
A Practical Guide. In the preface, we see that the author indicates
that technology has been expanding for the last few decades and, at the same time, geography
and geographical distances in particular have done nothing but shrink. We may now reach any destination we want
anywhere in the globe in less than 24 hours. but meeting new people, specially those
about whom we know nothing or very little about requires effective communication. There are three terms also
that we must pay very special attention to. One of them is the existence
of cultural differences. Cultural difference as the separation
between the two speakers that are located in the same environment in the moment of exchanging the information. Also, communication as a verbal
and nonverbal or behavioural aspect And finally, acculturation. A process by which anyone
who is brought into the world in a certain culture becomes a part of it by accepting
its limitations and restrictions consciously and subconsciously. Entering now the first chapter
Why Communicate Across Cultures we may remember Watzlawick et al.’s 1967 statement that all behaviour is communication
and vice versa, we may add. All communication is behaviour. We can never stop behaving,
we can never stop communicating We are doing it continuously and permanently. Therefore, translators need to know
about the verbal and nonverbal dimensions of language. Culture, additionally, restricts the free will
of the speaker. Not only of the speaker, but of the individual. Going on with the same chapter,
we have to make the necessary distinction betwen low-context and high-context cultures. The first one relies on words,
for example the USA while the second relies more on behaviour
or the nonverbal side of communication. And one example, as presented
in the initial part of this video was Japan, along with Mexico, for instance. Dissimilarities in low and high-context cultures when in the same communicative exchange,
may become obstacles and that is the centrepiece of this
Communication Across Cultures dedicated chapter. The quest for shared meaning is a key issue
in communicative exchanges there has to be a common ground
to favour understanding. Otherwise, Sowell in 1994 well put it by saying that cultural Balkanisation
leads to isolation. Excessive separation between cultures
is not conducive to dynamism and adaptability. In fact, it’s not even conducive to optimism. Entering now the second chapter,
What Constitutes a Culture? we know that it’s difficult to define the term but we may assume it’s related to the knowledge
that is passed on from one generation to the next. And the patterns too,
through which communication is filtered and through which there are limitations
to the speaker’s free will. In this relation, Hall’s 1976 situational frames coincide with Goffman’s view of regulations
imposed by culture as a traffic system. In other words, situational frames are patterns
of behaviour for specific situations and they are the building blocks of culture
according to the same author. It is then possible to identify
two different aspects of communication which are not incompatible, quite on the contrary they are necessary in coexistence. The first one is intermittent. The conveyance of new information.
It cannot be a continuous process. Otherwise we would, for lack of a better word,
become infoxicated and the second one is a continuous process which regulates the interaction
between speakers and maintains an open channel
of communication and informational exchange. We must then take into account
that culture is presented as normative while in fact it’s a construct and perceived as innate, inherited or natural while in fact it is, again,
something that is socially construed. This is relevant because the constraints
and limitations that are socially-dependent include directives and prohibitions
which affect the speaker’s decisions as well as encouragements and warnings
to direct his own behaviour. The nonverbal part of linguistic interaction. Another contribution
from the field of anthropology is Pike’s 1956’s distinction
between the etic and the emic approaches. From the outside in implies that we are observers
of culture in general. and we criticise what we find alienating. And from the inside out refers to us
as members of that particular culture interpreting the meaning
that could not be understood from the outside. In fact, this is nothing but a culture-general
and a culture-specific analysis but it establishes a taxonomy that determines and facilitates
the analysis of cultural building blocks. One legitimate question we may ask ourselves
after all of these pieces of information is what does culture as a system intend
by limiting its members’ free will? The most immediate answer would be
to achieve predictability of behaviour. No one escapes society’s encompassing control because everyone is a member of that culture
and accepts its rules. and functions within this framework. Another would be to outline cultural patterns that are relatively flexible
and keep evolving as time goes on. Another concept that should not escape us
is Goffman’s 1963 proposal of a negatively eventful act as that one
characterised by the two following features. If it is not performed,
it implies negative sanctions. However, if it is performed, it passes unnoticed. This would be the case
of knocking on a door, for example before going into someone else’s office. If we are strangers and do not knock we would be considered impolite
and receive a sanction. A social sanction. If we knock on the door,
we may act normally and naturally because we are following cultural patterns
within a specific society. Finally, we are going to refer
to the possible consequences of culture clash as those described previously
when talking about low and high context cultures. If this clash produces
what would be considered a positive result preconceived ideas would be
suppressed or reduced. That is what Novinger repeatedly describes
as having an epiphany. On the other hand,
these preconceptions may be reinforced and become fossilised. As a conclusion
drawn from all the previous points we may indeed say
that when cultural differences go to extremes communication as a process
might indeed become impossible. This would be an unsuccessful communicative act. Finally, here are some questions
for further discussion. Firstly, it would be interesting to determine
whether there are any constraints to individual and social free will
in one’s own culture but also, this is the second point to see if there are ethnocentric practices related to the low or high context
characteristics of this culture and whether stagnation
or dynamism is the main feature. We hope that these materials have been useful
and invite viewers to leave a comment. Thank you and goodbye.


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    Estimado Dr. Costal Criado, my third book has been published: It is written as fiction–to tell the truth.

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