Hua, Zhu (Ed.), The Language and Intercultural Communication Reader

Reviewed by Katrin Volt at   Amazon review

Language plays an important role in any communication as it is through language that we negotiate meaning and understand the world around us.

This Language and Intercultural Communication Reader has twenty-two chapters divided into six parts, covering key topics in this field of study from language, thought and culture, theoretical considerations on cultural approaches to discourse and pragmatics, empirical examples of communication patterns across cultures, teaching and learning cultural variations of language use, interculturality, and intercultural communication in a professional context.

Each part has an introduction that clearly sets out the tone for the chapters and briefly outlines what is to follow. Each part finishes with study activities and discussion questions.

Do we see the world the same way when we use a different language? There is an ongoing debate about the relationship between language, culture and thought. It is not about putting sentences together, but what to say in a culturally appropriate way, and when to do so that makes our communication effective and is key to successful intercultural communication. We may also come across pragmatic transfer i.e. carrying over meaning from our language background when using a foreign language.

Below is a brief summary of two of the chapters from this Reader.

Chapter 12 in Part 3 is entitled "The Silent Finn Revisited" (Sajavaara and Lehtonen). They point out the stereotypes people have about the Finnish communication style and how different nationalities perceive Finns. The authors state a national image is a generalization embedded in memory and that the behavior that gives rise to stereotypes is true and real. They furthermore stress that it is the interpretation of the behavior derived from misguided expectations resulting from different cultural framework that leads the observer astray. The saying, "You speak only when you have something to say" - is shared with other Nordics. Therefore, if you don't have anything to say, you keep silent. They explain that Finns make silent observations to gather information rather than ask questions as some other cultures might opt for. The authors point out that the difficulty starts when people make use of their own conceptual categories to organize their observations about the behavior of others. The authors also say that the forms and topics of small talk in Finland are different, but it is not possible to say that there is less of it. Hofstede's indices tell us very little about this. They explain that speaking is controlled in Finland, like elsewhere, by various situational norms such as silence in church, constraints on `chatter' at the dinner table, etc. In addition, Finnish cultural behavior also comprises a number of values and fundamental conceptions of appropriate behavior which give an outsider an impression of silent culture.

Chapter 16 (Sarangi) looks at gatekeeping interviews and how questions and information giving can be misinterpreted, simply because there are hidden purposes behind the questions and culture specific ways of structuring information. Thus, to be better communicators we should ask the questions in such a way that the receiver understands our intention. We often ask questions to find out something that is important to us, but this may not be interpreted or understood in such a way by the hearer.

The Reader is useful for students and researchers in the field of language and intercultural communication. I found the language of the Reader complex, as the field of study and issues analyzed require concentration and are topic-specific.

The conclusion of the Reader discusses key issues in research design for conducting research projects on language and intercultural communication.

The Reader has a wide resource list at the end, not only books but also useful websites, professional bodies and organizations, etc. A glossary of key terms at the end of the Reader helps readers understand the main concepts.

As a concluding remark, any use of language is influenced by many different variables and to be successful communicators, we should first know how, in fact, we use our own language and then how to use it to communicate with others to make sure our communication is meaningful and mutually intelligible. Culture as it lives in individuals has many dimensions and it would make sense to look at the situational variables when looking at communication between speakers.

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