Social Relationships Are Changing Radically English Language Essay

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There is no standard definition for culture, it may mean different things to different people, it is a way of living, a way of behaving, a unique system that in its own special way, shapes and moulds individuality and world view, including language behaviour ( Senft, Ã-stman,Verschueren, 2009: 95). Herskovits (1955) sees culture as "everything that is human made", Geertz (1973) as "a system of meanings" and for Hall (1959) "Culture is communication and communication is culture." (Gudykunst, 2003:8). There is definitely a link between culture and language, the language being the essence of the people and country, and the culture directing their way of feeling, thinking and relating to the others and creating responsibilities to the society to which people belong.

Communication depends very much on culture because we give meaning to our words with the help of the community in which we live, we identify with the people we talk to. Culture is responsible for the differences between the diverse communities, it is part of our being, but it is language as means of communication that is the most available expression of a certain culture. If changing from one culture to another, one might feel confused as if losing one's way of feeling, thinking or communicating.

When producing a message, the addresser tries to capture some information in words and pictures and send it through different media. It is essential to know how to put information into text/utterances so that the reader/listener understands the information and the process of communication becomes successful. However, there may be cases when the reader/listener does not understand the message because it may be written/uttered in a different language or the addresser and the addressee may belong to different cultures. The first people to observe that "a message is not a fixed impersonal entity, but is formed by the comparative cultures of writer and reader" were a group of philosophers and theorists, led by M. M. Bakhtin (Bakhtin, 1986 cited in Sharples, 1999:155). They believed that the context includes the meaning and not the text itself. The text is influenced by the context and the culture of the writer. The interaction between the writer and the reader is important but also different. A text is interpreted differently by each reader and although there are some universal truths that have a single possible interpretation, as for example the scientific facts, generally speaking each reader interprets a text in his/her own way according to his/her cultural values and influences.

The interpretation that people give to what they read or hear is based on their ideologies which influence people's actions or understanding. At the same time, the writer/speaker has to try to see everything through the eyes of the reader/listener, too. Both writer and speaker do not produce a message only for their needs, they also have to think of the way in which the addresses will be influenced according to their ideals. The written text is even more subject to interpretation because it is fixed and although it cannot be changed, the readers do change and so do the interpretations and even the ideologies. As time passes by, the written text is interpreted according to different cultures and ideologies because the reader is in charge of the text and he/she gives it whatever meaning he/she wishes. International communication involves cross-cultural/intercultural communication, which leads to factors of cultural differences. Such differences exist in every language such as the tone of voice, topic of conversation or speech acts (e.g. apologies, suggestions, refusals, etc.). Thus, we can state that we cannot separate language and culture because they would lose their importance.

However, we may consider language as both a social and a cultural phenomenon because its use is generally related to social and cultural values. There are different conversational norms in each culture, thus communication problems may arise among speakers who do not know or share the norms of the same culture. More than that an utterance may sound fine in one culture but it may sound awkward in a different culture. For example, one of the differences between the Japanese and the Anglo-Saxon cultures mentioned by Wierzbicka (1991:73) refers to the idea of wishes, desires and preferences which is not encouraged in the Japanese culture, therefore they would not say "I would like this/I like this/I want this." while it is an absolute normal thing to say these words in the Anglo-Saxon culture which encourages people to state their wishes, desires or preferences. The target audience has to understand what is being said according to its cultural background. Researchers or people in general may use the same terms but actually the reference may be different because what they say does not mean the same thing for everyone. (Wierzbicka, 1991)

Pragmatics deals with the way in which language is used, with the relation between signs and their interpreters. A great deal of research has been done lately in cross-cultural pragmatics and intercultural pragmatics which are well recognized trends within pragmatics which deal with the culture specific character of language use and communication. Cross-cultural pragmatics deals not only with the understanding of language, but also with understanding the people and the world in general. In The Pragmatics of Cross-Cultural Communication, Tannen (1985:189) defines and explains the study of cross-cultural communication as:

…a paradigm example of the inseparability of linguistic theory and application. Linguists study cross-cultural communication for its applied significance, which is enormous, given the heterogeneity of societies affected by global migrations and the increasingly cross-cultural nature of commerce, diplomacy, and personal relationships throughout the world. And we also study cross-cultural communication because it provides a discourse analog to the starred sentence in linguistic argumentation. By examining interactions in which habits and expectations about how to show what is meant by what is said are not shared, we can see semantic processes - how language means - which are harder to observe in the seamless surface of successful communication.

According to Tannen's explanation, we can state that cross-cultural communication is essential at the global level, as all public or private meetings are under the influence of different cultures, and setting and accomplishing goals depend very much on knowledge of the others, of the people you have to deal with. International relations are the central point for the multiple cultures and the ways of communicating and only by knowing these different cultural backgrounds can we reach the same goals and create understanding at a global level. Communication is marked by such features as tone of voice, pause, loudness, etc. which are normally put into context without being processed in a communication between the same culture. Bateson (1972) calls these features "metamessages" and states that an utterance "communicates metamessages about the relationship between interactants". Such "metamessages" are normal, expected and pass unnoticed when uttered in a conversation which takes place at an intracultural level. Still, cross-culturally they cannot pass unnoticed because they are not shared and expected, hence, they may create misunderstandings. That is why the interlocutors should know more about each other's culture so that the process of communication reaches its objectives. Cross-culturally a raised tone of voice which is typical for Arabs, for example, may create a lot of misunderstandings to a European. Arabs talk loudly and use a lot of hand motion and facial expressions which may give the impression of being in an argument to a person who is not familiar with their way of talking, thus talking to one of them and not knowing about their raised tone of voice, may leave a European without words or even make him/her angry which would lead to a lot of communication problems in a private or public conversation. In conclusion, these mettamessages have to be correctly interpreted based on the interlocutor's culture so as not to make a conversation difficult and more than that, linguistic studies are important in order to underline linguistic differences. Comparisons have been made not only at the level of the language but also at the level of the socio-cultural norms which are related to language. It is through such comparative studies that global communication becomes successful.

To sum up we can state that communication, language and culture are strongly interrelated. We use language to communicate but also to carry the values, ideas, beliefs of a culture. The process of communication is successful only if there is a mutual understanding between the participants, however when the participants belong to different cultures a successful communication means not only having different linguistic skills but also knowing the codes and values of the interlocutor's culture. International relations and the increased contact among cultures are important factors for making efforts in understanding the beliefs and backgrounds of other cultures. Thus, cross-cultural communication is essential and so are the cross-cultural studies because they help us to understand how communication changes within different cultures and how culture influences communication. With the help of such studies, we will be able to have successful communication and cooperation at global level.