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4.4: Conversing and Relating (Summary)

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    From theory to practice…

    In efforts to avoid culture or gender bias, some of the strategies include the following:

    - Be a mindful listener, particularly when communicating with non-native speakers. That includes listening actively and watching for nonverbal cues to assist in judging understanding and appropriateness. It's important to keep in mind possible different conventions regarding the role of silence or rules for turn-taking. In some cultures, interrupting is normal and expected; in others it's expected that one defer to elders or other members of the community.

    - Adjust your speech (rate and register) as appropriate. This includes being able to rephrase in simpler terms and avoiding potentially culturally sensitive areas. Safe topics are typically food and music; problematic are often politics and religion. At the same time, one should be aware of the dangers of over-accommodating. Sensitivity is desirable; patronizing is not.

    Discover your own speech mode. Through encounters with others, both face-to-face and online, you can experience a wide variety of language use and verbal styles. This can provide insights into your own use of language. It's important to reflect on the extent to which you use typical male or female subject positions when speaking, or to what extent you are intentional in modifying your language register when encountering a non-native speaker.

    Key Concepts

    • Adjacency pair: A unit of conversation that contains an exchange of one turn each by two speakers
    • Anxiety/uncertainty management: Theory by W. Gudykunst to define how humans effectively communicate based on their balance of anxiety and uncertainty in social situations
    • Cognitive consistency: A psychological theory that proposes that humans are motivated by inconsistencies and a desire to change them
    • Communication accommodation theory: Theory developed by H. Giles which explores the various reasons why individuals emphasize or minimize the social differences between themselves and their interlocutors through verbal and nonverbal communication
    • Convergence: The process through which an individual shifts his or her speech patterns in interaction so that they more closely resemble the speech patterns of speech partners
    • Corpus / corpora: Collected sets of texts that are systematically collected and organized and linguistically tagged
    • Cultural schema: The familiar and pre-acquainted knowledge one uses when entering a familiar situation in his/her own culture
    • Cultural script: Particular set of behaviors and language used conventionally in a culture within a certain context
    • Direct style: Manner of speaking where one employs overt expressions of intention
    • Divergence: A linguistic strategy whereby a member of a speech community accentuates the linguistic differences between his or herself and his interlocutor
    • Elaborated code: A cultural context wherein the speakers of a language have a variety of linguistic options open to them in order to explicitly communicate their intent via verbal messages
    • Ellipsis / elliptical construction: The omission of one or more words from a clause without affecting the meaning
    • Genderlect: A variety of speech or conversational style used by a particular gender (originated by D. Tannen)
    • High context: Cultural orientation where meanings are gleaned from the physical, social, and psychological contexts
    • Indirect style: Manner of speaking wherein the intentions of the speakers are hidden or only hinted at during interaction
    • Interlocutor: Person with whom one speaks
    • Low context: Cultural orientation where meanings are encoded in the verbal code
    • Mindfulness: Being attentive, sensitively conscious, non-judgmental, ready to respond and interact appropriately (Ting-Toomey)
    • Overaccomodation: Exaggerating accommodating someone else's verbal and nonverbal communication style
    • Paralinguistics: Aspects of spoken communication that do not involve words, i.e., sighing, laughing, etc.
    • Pragmalinguistic competence: The ability to perform speech acts such as apologies or requests appropriately using a range of linguistic expressions
    • Pragmatic failure: The inability to understand the meaning of what is said
    • Pragmatic transfer: The influence of learners' pragmatic knowledge of language and culture other than the target language on their comprehension, production, and acquisition of l2 pragmatic information
    • Register: A variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting
    • Restricted code: A cultural context wherein the speakers of a language are limited as to what they can say or do verbally. a restricted code is a status-oriented system.
    • Rich point: We realize that a culture is different from ours when we face some behaviors which we do not understand; rich points are those surprises, those departures from an outsider’s expectations that signal a difference between source language/culture and target language/culture
    • Self-disclosure: Process of communication by which one person reveals information about himself or herself to another person
    • Similarity-attraction hypothesis: The idea that similarity leads to attraction
    • Sociopragmatic competence: The ability to use correct linguistic forms within particular speech communities
    • Small talk: Polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions
    • Speech code: Any rule or regulation that limits, restricts, or bans speech beyond the strict legal limitations upon freedom of speech or press found in the legal definitions of harassment, slander, and libel
    • Speech community: A group of people who share a set of linguistic norms and expectations with regard to how their language should be used
    • Speech style: A particular approach to how one expresses oneself
    • Standpoint theory: Central concept is that an individual's own perspectives are shaped by his or her social and political experiences
    • Subject position: The idea that participating in a particular discourse involves creating a particular perspective which allows full access to the discourse community
    • Thick description: Description of a human behavior that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider
    • Third culture: Process of cultural adaptation in which representatives of different cultures merge together aspects of their cultures into a new hybrid (different from concept of "third culture kid", children raised in a culture other than their parents' for extended period of time
    • Turn-taking: A type of organization in conversation and discourse where participants speak one at a time in alternating turns
    • Uncertainty: The amount of predictability in a communication situation
    • Uncertainty reduction theory: Theory whose major premise is that when strangers first meet, their primary goal is to reduce uncertain



    • Seth, Riva (2008), First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages. Simon & Schuster.
    • Chua, Amy (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Penguin Books.

    Analyzing language use in context

    TED description: "Linguist Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds - and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize"

    TED description: "Prof. Elizabeth Stokoe takes a run on what she terms the 'conversational racetrack' the daily race to understand each other when we speak—and explains how to avoid hurdles that trip us up and cause conflict. Stokoe developed the Conversation Analytic Role-play Method (CARM), an approach based on evidence about what sorts of problems and roadblocks can occur in conversation, as well as the techniques and strategies that best resolve these problems"

    TED (essay) description: "British psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe studies the patterns in talk that most of us don’t even notice. She explains how her research can be used to train people to interact more effectively."

    Book chapter by Jessica Robles (From Kurylo, Inter/Cultural Communication: Representation and Construction of Culture) with nice examples of conversation analysis

    Interesting from the perspective of restricted codes

    Using language in public

    TED description: "Megan Washington is one of Australia's premier singer/songwriters. And, since childhood, she has had a stutter. In this bold and personal talk, she reveals how she copes with this speech impediment—from avoiding the letter combination “st” to tricking her brain by changing her words at the last minute to, yes, singing the things she has to say rather than speaking them."

    TED description: "In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated."

    TED description: "In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, "We are losing our listening." In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening — to other people and the world around you."

    Gender and Language

    About voice stereotypes, short film by David Thorpe (NY Times)

    Communicating and relating electronically

    TED description: "Does texting mean the death of good writing skills? John McWhorter posits that there’s much more to texting — linguistically, culturally — than it seems, and it’s all good news."

    On the "democratization of intimacy" - are we returning to an old pattern of how relationships were maintained while at work?
    TED description: "We worry that IM, texting, Facebook are spoiling human intimacy, but Stefana Broadbent's research shows how communication tech is capable of cultivating deeper relationships, bringing love across barriers like distance and workplace rules."


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    Photo credits

    2 men and woman by Gleb Leonov / Strelka Institute

    Speaker in Hyde Park: George Louis,_London,_with_crowd,_1974.jpg

    Dating: Pexels

    Brüderschaft trinken: SKK-Felsenkeller Keglerfest

    Steelworkers: Moreen Ishikawa, the White House

    Small talk: David Goehring

    Korean shopkeeper: Damian Dovarganes

    Man and woman talking: Pexels

    Anxious woman: Pixabay

    Lovings: Wikipedia

    Japanese woman: Pixabay

    Japanese bath house:

    This page titled 4.4: Conversing and Relating (Summary) is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert Godwin-Jones.

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