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How Do Cultural Values Influence Behavior?

I am very interested in how cultural values influence behavior. This is also true of our linguistic behavior. The way we use language shows preferences for some types of communicative behavior while discouraging others. Culture will affect, for example, the extent to which we speak loudly and animatedly or quietly, whether we use lots of "I" statements, whether we choose very explicit language or whether we are indirect. Intercultural or cross-cultural, pragmatics is the contrastive or comparative study of such communicative norms aiming to reach a better understanding of the cultural value or values that underpin them and it is a field we can learn from.

When we help business English students to operate internationally, we might usefully consider the role of communicative styles as part of the familiarization process. The awareness raising could usefully consider both styles of communication: for example, the very explicit language used by low-context cultures or speaker-based cultures as opposed to the imprecise and ambiguous language favored by high-context cultures or hearer-based cultures.

Situation also dictates language choice. In linguistics, various terms have been coined for certain types of key expressions that are related to specific contexts or situations. These conversational routines/prefabricated expressions/politeness formulae/situation-bound utterances could well be useful in raising clientsí awareness about the relationship between language and culture. In essence, they are expressions whose linguistic meaning is distorted because of the role they have in a specific situation: linguistic meaning versus use. When a British English speaker asks the question: "how are you?" s/he doesnít expect a lengthy reply about the state of the respondentís health. If an American says, "letís get together some time", s/he may be saying no more than "goodbye". If a Japanese speaker says "yes" in a meeting, it is as well to understand that this is the politeness dictated by the situation and in no way indicates agreement or an undertaking to act.

Submitted by:

Brenda Townsend Hall

Brenda Townsend Hall, a contributing editor to ESLemployment, is a writer in the fields of English for business, cross-cultural awareness and business communications. Interested in receiving TEFL job listings weekly for free? To learn more visit TEFL Jobs.




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