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4. Values, behaviour, identities and language in cross-cultural communication.

In cross-cultural communication the meaning of an action isn`t always transparent: as a rule, it is hidden in traditional ideas and abnormal behavior, specific for any culture. Human behavior in com-tion is determined by a number of factors that have different degrees of importance and influence. Human behavior is determined by following reasons:

  1. Peculiarities of enculturation that occur on the conscious level through socialization as well as on the unconscious level. The visible level is formal culture, the invisible – informal.

  2. Situation, called by Edward Hall “cultural glasses”: most people treat their culture as standard to compare with.

  3. Behavior is also determined by circumstances. People act differently in different situations. Consciously or unconsciously, people stick to rules, prescribed by their culture.

Empathy – is expressed in willingness not so much to understand the hidden meaning of the partner`s words but to feel the partner`s state. It is revealed in the ability to walk in other people`s shoes, to take into account partner`s state in communication.

Culture and values

The human world offers various types of values. We may distinguish between material values and values as ideas; values as a specific type of norms, traditions, customs, impositions, bans. The essence of values lies in their importance rather than in the very fact of their existence. Values – commonly held standards of what is acceptable or unacceptable, important and unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable in a society. A value symbolizes membership of a person in a cultural community.

Values are subjective. That is why researchers distinguish between such types of values as personal values, age values, values of large or small social groups. There are also cultural values divided into:

  1. Outstanding intellectual, artistic and religious works.

  2. Principles of co-existence: customs, stereotypes of behavior.

There are as well universal values (e.g. there is no culture that would appreciate murder, lie and theft). Cultural anthropology suggests 4 main spheres of cultural values – everyday routine, religion, arts. The peculiarity of values – they are created collectively, but treated as personal.

Norms – are an informal guideline about what is considered correct or incorrect social behavior in a particular group or social unit. Norms form the basis of collective expectations that members of a community have from each other. Behavioural norms are divided into customs (how things are done, ), morals (regulate human relations), rituals (ceremonies attended by numerous people and associated with highly emotional state), laws (a system of obligatory behavior sanctions by a state).

Identity – correspondence achieved through identifying oneself with certain ideas, values social group and culture. Identity means the individual`s awareness of belonging to a certain group, which allows the individual the place in socio-cultural space and operate in the environment. There is a number of identities (professional, social, ethnic, political, cultural). Cultural identity – the individual`s membership in an certain culture or cultural group that forms the individual`s evaluation of self, of other people, society and the world in general. Cultural identity is very important since it presupposes formation in a person of certain stable qualities.


Every culture has its own language system that enables its speakers to communicate with each other. There are differences on different levels, e.g. phonetic , lexical , grammatical.

The breakthrough in research of the “language-culture” problem took place in the 20th century when scientists could explain the relation between language, thought and culture. Culture is reflected in language. The initiators of research into correlation between culture and language were Boas and Malinowski. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – linguistic relativity – people see the world in different ways – through their language, language forms our thoughts itself. Every language has its own way of presenting the world. Anna Wierzbicka – argues that language reflect and simultaneously form people`s values. The world reflects human perception that occurs through the worldwide perspective in human consciousness. She claims that words are not translatable.

Language may be treated as component of culture and as its instrument. The main function of language – communicative. 3 aspects to culture and language correlation:

  1. Language depends on culture (culture is part of reality and language is a tool to explain this reality)

  2. Language determines culture and thought (and perception)

  3. Language and culture are interdependent

  1. Classification of cultures.

There are several typologies of cultures that consider different problems of cultural interaction. The most famous are the theory of high- and low-context cultures, suggested by Ed. Hall, the theory of cultural dimensions, whose author is Geert Hofstede, and the theory of cultural literacy, put forward by Eric Hirsh.

Edward T. Hall’s research focused on cross-cultural differences in communication. From his studies, he developed a cultural typology. Three core components of this typology include context, time, and space. In particular he is known for his high and low context cultural factors.

Context: High context

In a high-context culture, there are many contextual elements that help people to understand the rules. As a result, much is taken for granted. This can be very confusing for person who does not understand the 'unwritten rules' of the culture.

Cultures differ in the amount of background knowledge that is deemed to be necessary when communicating. Cultures in which people are closely connected form networks that keep them informed as part of the daily life. Persons in these cultures do not need or provide little, if any, background information in their communications. Contextual knowledge exists as part of the networking. Hall described these cultures as high-context and include the Japanese, Arabs, and Mediterranean people.

Low context

In a low-context culture, very little is taken for granted. Whilst this means that more explanation is needed, it also means there is less chance of misunderstanding particularly when visitors are present. the low-context cultures believe it necessary to provide background information when communicating. According to Hall, Americans, Germans, and northern Europeans are low-context cultures.

Hall’s typology focuses on two systems of time: monochromic and polychronic.

Monochronic time: M-Time, as he called it, means doing one thing at a time. It assumes careful planning and scheduling and is a familiar Western approach that appears in disciplines such as 'time management'. Monochronic people tend also to be low context.

Polychronic time - In Polychronic cultures, human interaction is valued over time and material things, leading to a lesser concern for 'getting things done' -- they do get done, but more in their own time. Aboriginal and Native Americans have typical polychronic cultures, where 'talking stick' meetings can go on for as long as somebody has something to say. Polychronic people tend also to be high context.

Contrasting the two

Western cultures vary in their focus on monochronic or polychronic time. Americans are strongly monochronic whilst the French have a much greater polychronic tendency -- thus a French person may turn up to a meeting late and think nothing of it (much to the annoyance of a German or American co-worker). “Monochronic time means paying attention to and doing only one thing at a time. Polychronic time means being involved with many things at once”. These two systems are in conflict. Cultures with a monochromic time system focus on schedules. In contrast, cultures with a polychronic system “emphasizes human transaction over holding to schedules.

Space is another important cross-cultural element. Space is described in terms of territory. Territory can also be associated with power. We have concerns about space in many situations, from personal body space to space in the office, parking space, space at home.

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