2.1.4 Language and Culture

The influence and power of language is meaningful to cultural and ethnic group members. In each speech community -- ethnic, racial, cultural or gender-related -- language use is of vital importance. Each speech community has its norms, forms and codes for communication. The interactions of a group of people vary in many respects: in frequency and value of speaking, interpretation of speaking performances, and shared language forms. The speech community maintains the norms and rules of communication, but it may gradually change them. On the other hand, in every speech community there is a degree of individual deviation from the norms. Not all group members communicate in the same way.

The group members share a speech code, a system of symbols, signs, meanings and rules in a specific situation and interaction. Several aspects, like the relationship, age, gender, social status and generation, affect communication. Likewise, the proportion of verbal and nonverbal communication vary in different speech communities.

Rules of speaking determine what is appropriate and inappropriate in a situation with particular communication partners. We are automatically aware of what to say and not to say, and in what a way.

Rules of interaction help a person to know how to act towards others in a particular situation.

Language is not only used as a means of communication, but also as a marker or indicator the speaker's cultural identity. The identity is communicated through a particular language use during interaction (discourse markers). Certain types of expressions are used to express belonging to a group, but likewise they are sometimes used to exclude, separate or discriminate.

Intercultural communication takes place when interacting participants represent a different communication system. Differences may occur in verbal and nonverbal communication, for instance, eye contact, gestures, touch, pauses, turn-taking or use of time. They are potential sources of clashes or conflicts in intercultural communication. In a case of an intercultural communication clash, there may occur feelings of confusion, tension, embarrassment and frustration.


© Irmeli Luoma, 2005



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