Linguistic approaches to intercultural (business) communication

Culture and language

Linguistic approaches to intercultural (business) communication consider this, not as a distinct concept, but as a particular type of interpersonal communication in general, and therefore focus on features common to the latter. The goal is for communication in intercultural situations to take place on an equal footing between participants. At the same time, culture is not conceived of as something external, not as a control mechanism or structure, “but rather as a dynamic set of conditions and as a regulatory framework of interpersonal action” (Metten 2014). Nor is culture conceived as a universe of objective items or as a system of ideas, values or subjective opinions, but rather as “collective, especially linguistic practice” (Renn 2004: 430).

Combining linguistic aspects with cultural standards

The fascination of cultural standards and dimensions also extends to linguists, some of whose studies combine Hofstede’s cultural dimensions with linguistic categories. Thus power distance is expressed through references to previous communication or in the form of salutations. Uncertainty avoidance is reflected in the nature of commands or requests (explicit or vague), in the placement of the thesis/purpose statement, or in the way contact information is provided (in the text of the letter or in the letterhead only). Individualism / collectivism is mirrored in the form or reference to self (as an individual vs. as a group) (Loukianenko Wolfe 2008: 93). This method, however, involves the risk of missing the real linguistic facts by looking merely for linguistic evidence of the standards specified. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions have also been correlated with stylistic dimensions. Thus the stylistic contrast between instrumental (goal and sender-oriented) and affective communication (process-oriented, relationship-oriented) has been linked with Hofstede’s masculinity- femininity dimension. Similarly, a relatively elaborate communication style and a more succinct one (i.e. brief and to the point) have been associated with low and high uncertainty avoidance, respectively (according to Bargiela-Chiappini, Nickerson, and Planken 2013: 304).

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