After reading this chapter you should be able to:
Identify your own cultural identity.
Understand how communication, identity, and culture are related.
Describe research methodologies specific to the study of intercultural communication.
Identify cultural representations in popular culture artifacts.
In efforts to explain the world’s population to young children, David J. Smith asks children to imagine the world as a small village so they can understand the vast population figures in a more comprehensible way. In 2012, the world’s population was 7,050,000,000 (Smith 7). Instead of talking about numbers of this magnitude, he represents the world as 100 people, where one imaginary person represents 70,500,000 people from the real world. Using Smith’s model, we can more easily examine what nationalities make up the world’s population, what languages they speak, how old they are, and how these statistics involve wealth and education.
Here are some interesting facts from Smith’s global village (8). Of the 100 people living in the village:
- 60 are from Asia
- 15 are from Africa
- 11 are from Europe
- 8 are from South and Central America (including Mexico) and the Caribbean
- 5 are from the United States and Canada
- 1 is from Oceania
So, how do these 100 people talk with one another? While there are nearly 6,000 languages spoken in this village, more than 50% of the villagers speak one of these eight (10):
- 27 speak a Chinese dialect (16 speak Mandarin)
- 9 speak Hindi
- 9 speak English
- 7 speak Spanish
- 4 speak Bengali
- 4 speak Arabic
- 3 speak Portuguese
- 3 speak Russian
Although there are 36 school-aged villagers (5-24 years), only 30 of them go to school, and there is only one teacher. Of the people old enough to read, 14 cannot read at all. Male villagers are taught to read more than females (Smith 21). While 68 villagers breathe clean air, the remaining 32 villagers breathe unhealthy air due to pollution (Smith 18). If each villager earned a similar annual income, each one would have $10,300 per year. Instead, the richest 10 people in the village earn more than $87,500 a year, the poorest 10 villagers earn less than $2 a day, while the remaining 80 earn somewhere in between. As the average annual cost of food and shelter in the village is more than $5,000, many people go without these basic necessities (Smith 22).
Moreover, it probably does not surprise you that the people with less money are also likely not to have electricity and education. Besides simple cultural differences such as what language one speaks or the foods they prefer; cultural identity impacts individuals’ accessibility to certain resources such as shelter, electricity, running water, health care, education, and political and legal systems.
If we return to the United States from our look at the global village we see that according to Moore (62-63, 149-50):
- About 20 percent of young black men ages 16-24 are neither in school nor working. Compare this to 9 percent of young white men.
- Black women are four times more likely than white women to die in childbirth.
- Black levels of unemployment have been roughly twice those of white since 1954.
- Women hold only 13 seats in Congress.
- 496 of the top 500 companies are run by men.
- Women’s earnings average 76 cents for every $1 earned by men—resulting in a lifetime loss of over $650,133.
- To make the same annual salary as her male counterpart, a woman would have to work the entire year PLUS an additional four months.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts to death both the mentally retarded and children. The other five countries in the world that execute their children are Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Think about culture and communication as a reciprocal process: culture affects communication and communication affects culture. Both work together to shape how we identify as belonging to one culture or another, how we feel about belonging to a particular cultural group, how we communicate with other cultural groups, and how that group is regarded in the larger social system. In other words, what is the value and level of power afforded to various cultural groups? As you will see, this is often a reflection of the language used to refer to a particular group of people, or the relative value placed on their communication practices.