Week 9: Comparing dimensions of culture – politeness

What resonated with me most from this lecture was the emphasis it had on cultural differences in communication. Firstly, we had to discuss what we deemed universal functions in communication and culture specific feature in communication. With the person sat next to me we produced this list of what we thought:

Universal functions in communication:

Greetings and partings


Agreeing and disagreement



Accepting and declining

Culture specific features in communication:

Shaking hands or kissing

direct disagreement

The amount of overlapping speech that is acceptable

The amount of time between one speaker stopping and the next speaking beginning

Specific gender differences in communication

While I completed this task quite well, I had never thought about how different the concept of politeness was in different culture and what is deemed polite by me may be deemed unacceptable or inappropriate to others- making me more aware and intuitive in my communication with others.

Secondly, we considered Social Interaction and Face. I learnt that the origins of politeness in all societies reside in the notion of face (from Goffman, 1967). It is roughly analogous to the English expressions ‘to save face’ and ‘to lose face’ relating to individual’s self-esteem and respect in relation to others. Moreover, there is what is known as positive and negative face.

All adult members of a society have ‘face’ and this face is seen by Brown and Levinson to be divided into two types – positive face and negative face.

Positive face

The want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others(1). This involves such areas as wanting to be liked, wanting others to like the same things as you like, agreeing with others, expressing solidarity and equality with others.

Negative face

The want of every ‘competent adult member’ that his actions be unimpeded by others (Brown and Levinson, 1987). This involves such areas as avoiding imposing on others, wanting to complete actions without interference from others, expressing deference to others and expecting respect from others.

To me, this explains why politeness is such an important and integral notion in any culture, and is essentially used in order to ‘save face’;  Brown and Levinson believe that face and politeness strategies are universal, that is they occur in all cultures and societies, although how they are manifested will vary. In conclusion:

All societies have a concept of face.

All societies base social interaction on the preservation of individual face.

There are linguistic equivalents for the different politeness strategies in all societies

I found this idea of ‘face’ incredibly interested and engaging in terms of sociology, but agree with our guest lecturer that it has weaknesses. For example:

In multilingual and multicultural communication it may not be clear which norms of politeness should be referred to or compared.

Comparing ideas of politeness based on an interlocutors nationality may lead to stereotyping.

People do not behave in the same manner in intercultural communication as in intracultural communication

All in all, this lecture made me reflect on my perception of politeness and how this differs from other cultures. I feel that it made me a more conscientious and sensitive individual and engaged my interest in researching forms of politeness in other cultures.

“It’s common for people to exchange compliments both in English speaking countries and in China. Expressions such as “hen hao, bu cuo, hen bang” in Chinese are often used, which mean “great, good, terrific” in English. However, there do exist some cultural differences in compliments between English and Chinese. One difference lies in who can be complimented. It is usual for an American woman to praise her husband, talking about how hard he works and how well he has done. She might do the same about a son or a daughter of hers. In the English-speaking countries, one can praise one’s family members. But we Chinese people seldom compliment our family members in front of others. The Chinese are polite rather than honest while the westerners tend to be frank and direct. The other difference lies in what can be complimented. It is quite common for a male English speaker to compliment females on her good looks. But in China, praising a man on his wife’s looks will be regarded as indecent, and even a taboo.” Cultural Differences of Politeness in English and Chinese, Lu Yin. <http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/download/2492/2338‎>

(1) Brown, P. and S. Levinson. 1987. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Week 7: Intercultural Competence


Part of being introduced to intercultural tolerance involved watching videos of an interview-like scenario where people had clashed and repelled each other, or the opposite, due to their body language, they way they spoke and ultimately their approach to the interview.

Reflecting on the scenarios in the video, I considered from my own experience the way I speak, listen, my body language and how I may change the way i interact in accordance to who I am speaking with, or the situation I’m in. When involved in intercultural encounters in the classroom or workplace, I feel I approach it in quite a neutral manner. By this I mean I try not to speak in a thick, regional accent or use slang, and I also limit my body language as to make it non-threatnening and open to whom I am speaking to .

By watching these videos I felt I had learnt a great deal about how different cultures and different scenarios have varied norms and guidelines, particularly in a professional environment. This helped me reflect on how in the future I will prepare for an interview, or a similar professional meeting, as well as what is expected of me.

These things include:

How I dress and appear
How I greet and address someone (formal/informal)
My speech and language (professional and neutral rather than colloquial)

This lecture expanded my knowledge of how to communicate with other cultures successfully and efficiently.


Week 5: Deconstructing Stereotypes

I was really looking forward to this week’s workshop at the Nuffield Theatre. I always feel somewhat confined when working an a purely academic environment, whether that’s in a lecture theatre or a class room. Most importantly, Patrick’s workshop highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of how people use stereotypes in reference to culture. The workshop was light-hearted, energetic, relaxed and informal but significant in my study of communication and culture.

Two important questions we considered were:

What do we mean by stereotypes and


How does this affect intercultural

Patrick started the workshop by finding out our names, where we were from and our background. By generalising our background- for example, deeming me rough due to being from Luton- he instantly highlighted a flaw in stereotyping; that is that generalising is exactly that- GENERALISING. By making sweeping, broad assumptions about someone’s character due to their background  holds little weight and doesn’t allow one to get to know an individual at all.

However, on the other hand we explored how stereotypes can be beneficial in our communication among cultures.

Stereotyping can be helpful. When we meet a person, we compare them to people we have met before if they share similarites, for example, cultural similarites e.g. living in the same country, having a similar accent etc. As we’ve experienced someone who shares these similarites before, we found our initial impressions of what this is person is likely to be like.

The problem comes when people assume that stereotypes are facts – stereotypes/generalisations only give good indications of probabilities, and while some of these maybe true, the main thing to understand is that a person is an individual and holds many qualities outside of their stereotype that make them who they are.

When reading up on the subject I came across some work that I agreed with and felt I should share it:

“Stereotypes as a form of ‘ordering’ the mass of complex and inchoate data that we receive from the world are only a particular form — to do with the representation and categorization of persons — of the wider process by which any human society, and individuals within it, make sense of that society through generalities, patternings and ‘typifications’. Unless one believes that there is some definitively ‘true’ order in the world which is transparently revealed to human beings and unproblematically expressed in their culture — a belief that the variety of orders proposed by different societies, as analysed by: anthropology and history, makes difficult to sustain — this activity of ordering, including the use of stereotypes, has to be acknowledged as a necessary, indeed inescapable, part of the way societies make sense of themselves, and hence actually make and reproduce themselves. (The fact that all such orderings are by definition, partial and limited does not mean that they are untrue — partial knowledge is not false knowledge, it is simply not absolute knowledge.)

There are, however, two problems about stereotypes within this perspective Firstly, the need to order ‘the great blooming, buzzing confusion reality’ is liable to be accompanied by a belief in the absoluteness and certainty of any particular order, a refusal to recognize its limitations and partiality, its relativity and changeability, and a corresponding incapacity to deal with the fact and experience of blooming and buzzing.” (1)

So how does this affect intercultural communication? In short, stereotypes sometimes allows to justifiably act in a certain way that is not insulting or disrespectful but generalised. For example, bowing when meeting a Chinese person in China. However, stereotypes can be used in a disrespectful and inappropriate way by assuming that someone is limited by their culture and epitomises a generalised view of their culture and by acting in accordance to this, communication between people from different cultures breaks down.

(1) Richard Dyer, The Role of Stereotypes ,in Paul Marris and Sue Thornham: Media Studies: A Reader, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh University Press, 1999.


Week 4: Language and Culture


In this seminar we considered language and its relationship with culture. We were asked to consider

—To what extent are languages and cultures ‘inexorably’ linked?
—Is your world view influenced by the language you speak?
—Can languages and cultures ever be separated
By looking at cultural dialogues between people that were from two different cultures speaking in English, we discussed how language is a semiotic system (a system of symbols).
In this I thought about how our language expresses the culture and society that we live in.The connection between language, culture and society is interconnected; language influences culture and culture influences language

This thought helped me to further understand how by calling language a semiotic system we mean, as Halliday puts it, “interpreting language within a sociocultural context, in which culture itself is interpreted in semiotic terms.” (1)

When considering whether my world view was influenced by the language I speak I found it hard to comprehend a different worldview to my own, a worldview from a different culture. Language must influence my worldview, and I felt my thoughts on the subject were well supported and articulated in Blommaerts writing:

—“there is a … shift … from a view in which language is narrowly tied to a community, a time and a place (the Saussurean synchrony also precipitated in the notions of speech community and related ones), and in which language is primarily seen as having local functions, to a view in which language exists in and for mobility across space and time.  This shift, … forces us to consider linguistic signs detached from their traditional locus of origin…and instead re-placed, so to speak, in very different loci of production and uptake – where the conventional associative functions of such signs cannot be taken for granted.” (2)
Following on from this I reflected on the idea that:
—The fluidity and ‘super-diversity’ of intercultural communication  has led to the suggestion that the notion of a language or the language is no longer helpful
—Instead we would do better to consider participants in intercultural communication as making use of linguistic repertories and resources
—We draw on these linguistic repertories when we engage in cultural practices.Although I didn’t agree with this premise, I found it interesting and important to my study of language and its relationship with culture. In my opinion, language reinforces and restablishes culture; it is not only a key element of how that culture is represented and communicated but it also reflects geographical and class positioning in a cultural group.

(1) Halliday, Text and context in functional linguistics [Volume 169 of 4], ed. M. Ghadessy John Benjamins Publishing, 1999

(2) Blommaert, J. (2003), Commentary: A sociolinguistics of globalization. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7: 607–623.

Week 3: Globalisation and Culture


This week’s seminar on Globalisation and Culture was taken by Prof. Clare Mar-Molinero. Firstly, she played some Spanish music and asked us the question:

Why is this kind of music now so familiar?

Stragiht away I realised her point. Though I do not speak Spanish, nor am I related to Spanish culture in any way, I am subject to it in every day life and I can identify it as Spanish. But how and why?

[The world] ‘system is marked by both the existence of separate spaces (e.g. states) and deep inter-connectiveness of the different spaces, often, precisely, through the existence of worldwide elites’ (1)

Globalisation is the reason I could identity the music as Spanish; as the result of geographical spread and modern technological communication, Spanish culture has come into contact with mine.
Moreover, this is due to two other processes-

•Commodification with packaging and selling of cultural products;
•Disembedding and re-embedding: hybridity and homogenisation of discrete ‘cultures’, and defence by  ‘purists’.
We continued the seminar by exploring how Spanish culture has spread across the world through language and migration. In doing this, I developed an understanding of the implications of globalisation; how and why it occurs, it’s benefits (such as trade and enhanced communication between countries and industries as well as it’s down-sides such as contact zones (2)
(1) Blommaert, J. (2003), Commentary: A sociolinguistics of globalization. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7: 607–623.

(2) Pratt, M. L. (1991). Art of the Contact Zone. Profession, 91, 33-40.

Culture is beau…

Culture is beautiful, a type of art and makes the world the world as a whole. In my opinion, culture is characteristics of different groups of people or a country itself that share these properties and give them a social identity. This can be seen in music, art, literature, cuisine, religion, style of dressing. On the other hand, culture defines how people behave, act, do things their ‘own’ way and their mentality. Every country has its own culture and defines the country to be unique to others. Shows there is more than one way of doing one simple thing. However, due to globalization, migration culture is not pure and I believe it is changing over time. This is because of globalization and migration, different communities are mixing with each other and are intergrating. So, different groups of people are learning from each other, learning other cultures, learning other ways of doing the same thing and then depending on the person itself, these factors may be incorporated into their own lifes and daily routine, which causes the ‘change’ of culture. There are many cultures in the world and differentiates the countries apart, but in a way culture also brings the people and the world together as a whole.

Linda Cadier- Tutor