Intercultural communication is the exchange of information between diverse cultures, subcultures, and groups (Jandt 760). Our textbook, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication Identities in a Global Communication, by Fred E. Jandt discusses the foundations of language, non-verbal communication cues, social norms, values, and religion across different cultures. In order to understand a culture other than our own, it is important to maintain a non-ethnocentric viewpoint. Ethnocentrism is the negative evaluation and judgment of other cultures because they have different customs, social norms, or values from our culture (757). Creating space to learn about other cultures, having discussions with people that are different from us and learning work together is important in deconstructing our judgments and fostering a diverse intercultural world.
Messages are ideas that have been transformed into symbols through the encoding process (Jandt 65, 761). Signs are graphic representations of objects, events or places while symbols represent thoughts, words, or actions (Jandt 766, 768). Languages are an agreed upon set of shared symbols that hold the same meaning and expression (Jandt 760). The person sending a message is called the source, while the person attending to the message is called the receiver (Jandt 65). The receiver may either provided feedback to the source by providing a reciprocal message or may respond with response to the source’s information (Jandt 66, 67). The method a message is sent is called a channel (Jandt 753).
Nonverbal messages can be sent through kinesics, clothing choice, accessories, tattoos, and use of territory. Kinesics are forms of nonverbal communication including gestures, body movements, eye contact, and facial expressions (Jandt 760). An example of kinesics is the amount of touch tolerated among different cultures. In France having your arm around a friend’s shoulder, holding hands with them or greeting them with a kiss may be normal, but in middle eastern cultures, men and women are expected to never have skin to skin contact with each other in public. The adornment of accessories is present in Sikh and India cultures. Sikh men wear a ceremonial dagger, known as a kirpan, around their waist to strength, integrity, and protect against injustices or persecution (Jandt 240). In India, people believe gold jewelry spiritually represents purity and brings prosperity. Feng Shui is the Japanese method of altering space by rearranging a territories colors, plants, and furnishings to establish peace and harmony (Jandt 111).
Any events that limit the process of communication is called noise (Jandt 762). Vocabulary equivalence is the instance where a word loses its meaning upon direct translation (Jandt 268). Eskimo’s have a variety of words to differentiate snow types and patterns, but upon direct translation, those words lose meaning as they read “snow” in English (Jandt 260). In experimental equivalence, the experience or object being described in one language does not exist in the another. Examples of experimental equivalence come from East and West Germany after World War II and North and South Korea. East Germany called flags “waving element and Christmas angels “year-end winged figure[s]” because there was no word to describe those experiences (Jandt 272). Similarly, North Koreas refer to “skin lotion” as “skin water” while South Koreas created a word to describe the product (Jandt 272). These examples contradict the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which argues that thoughts are dictated by their relationship to language and culture (Jandt 259, 766). Linguists, like Steven Pinker, supports the idea that unfamiliar words and concepts can be indirectly translated into a foreign language if they are described with multiple words rather than a direct translation (Jandt 263).
Communication problems and human’s innate ability to categorize has resulted in the creation of racism, prejudice, and stereotypes. A race is a socially constructed idea that group people into categories based on their biological traits (Jandt 765). Racism is the belief that one race is superior to others and is accompanied with privileges to those in the “superior” race (Jandt 765). A stereotype is a negative judgment or idea about a race or ethnic group based on their perceived qualities (Jandt 767). Prejudice is the irrational suspicion or hatred towards a group and racism is the execution of prejudice through power, institutional, or structural authority (764). Cultivation theory is the concept that people gradually accept stereotypes, prejudice, and racism as facts (Jandt 104). A good example of cultivation theory was the widespread fear of middle eastern cultures following terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.
The Anxiety/Uncertainty Reduction Theory states that interaction with strangers’ results in feelings of anxiety because of uncertainty in how a stranger is going to react (Jandt 87). Anxiety is the sensation of worrying or feeling uneasy from fear of the unknown. Anxious people try to avoid uncertain situations and people with low anxiety care little about uncertain situations (Jandt 87). In relation to fear of the unknown, Geert Hofstede developed the Hofstede Dimensions in 1980 to describe differences between cultures (Jandt 314). These included: Uncertainty avoidance, Individualism vs collectivism, masculinity-femininity, and power distance (Jandt 315). Similarly, to the Anxiety/Uncertainty Theory, uncertainty avoidance is the sensation of feeling threatened when faced with something unknown; re (Jandt 330). The second dimension examines individualism, which is the importance of oneself over a group and collectivism which is the importance of a group over oneself (Jandt 315). The masculinity-femininity dimension examines the dominance of nurturing vs assertive vales in a culture and power distance examines the balance and distribution of power among cultures unequal balance of power (Jandt 315, 325).
In 1961, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck developed the Value Orientation Theory, which argues that all cultures develop opinions on humanity, our relationship with nature, activity, time, and relationship orientation (Jandt 377). The term “worldview” is used to describe how cultures perceive God, philosophical ideas, outer space, God, and our purpose in the world. (Jandt 378). Humanity’s relationship with nature evaluates if cultures protect their environment or utilize it for resources (378). Activity orientation is how cultures utilize their time to express emotions, develop, work, and improve oneself while time orientation accesses if time is viewed as a resource or timeline (Jandt 387, 413). Relationship orientations evaluate if cultures value individualism, collectivism, and views on humanity being innately good or evil (392, 414). The Puritans believed people were inherently evil but had the potential to be good if they remained faithful (Jandt 390).
One of the most important concepts from the textbook is that cultural invasion. Cultural invasion is the idea an ethnic group forced their culture’s language, values, and beliefs upon another culture (Jandt 279, 755). Typically, cultural invasion occurs in the presence of war, political takeover, genocide, or the enslavement of people (Jandt 279). An example was the enslavement of millions of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. Africans were forced to give up their languages, beliefs, and cultures and learn their colonizers’ culture. Despite colonial efforts, Africans succeeded in preserving some of their customs, religious beliefs, and religion by creating Creole; a mixture of French and African languages
After World War II the United States became one of the largest cultural invaders in the world. Its military presence, economic strength, and diplomatic ties made English more prominent around the globe. The creation of the internet and technological inventions has perpetuated the necessity to learn English. Today, half of the world’s books, over 90% of journal articles, 68% of newspaper and magazines, and numerous online databases are published in English (Ostler, 2005, Jandt 296). Although the United States has no official language, it is a citizenship requirement for immigrants to be able to read, write, and speak in English in order to become a citizen.
These chapters have shown how miscommunication can result in stereotypes, prejudice, racism, anxiety, and uncertainty. Topics around the world like human rights, the environment, religion, scientific discoveries, economics, and distribution of resources are discussed frequently because everyone agrees they are important. Disagreements between cultures are when miscommunication and problems may arise. A current example in the United States is the government shutdown. The Republican and Democrat parties both agreed on spending legislation, but President Donald Trump refuses to sign any legislation into law until he secures funding for a border wall. As the government shutdown enters its third week, it is becoming increasingly important for lawmakers with different values, cultures, and beliefs to cooperate with one another, find common ground, and reopen the government. President Donald Trump’s fixation on solely focusing on one problem rather than others extends to other issues in the United States and applies to other countries. England is calling for Prime Minister Teresa May to step down after there was a vote of no confidence and continued debates on Brexit. Citizens in France are also calling for their Prime Minister, Macron to step down after upholding environmental goals by raising oil prices across the country, despite the ensuing protests and vandalism Paris has endured over the past weeks.
The main takeaway from these readings is to communicate better with one another. Creating space for discussions, rather than arguing over negative comments, word choice, or past action, will provide people with a space to talk with one another. Discussions will educate people from different cultures, subcultures or groups within a country and hopefully reduce stereotypes, prejudice, and racism in addition to fostering healthy relationships. It is extremely important that people communicate with one another so that they can solve problems, build gaps between cultures, and create a positive and diverse modern world.
- Jandt, Fred Edmund. An Introduction to Intercultural Communication: Identities in a Global Community. 9th ed., SAGE, 2018.
- Ostler, Nicholas. Empires of the Word: a Language History of the World. Harper Perennial, 2005.
- Sun, Lena H., and Juliet Eilperin. “CDC Gets List of Forbidden Words: Fetus, Transgender, Diversity.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0e2b0ce07d1c.