Context in Interethnic Communication

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

23 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

Table of Figures

Table of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Three Components of Interethnic Communication
2.1 Communication
2.2 Culture
2.3 Context

3 Problems in Interethnic Communication
3.1 Interactive synchrony
3.2 Content Analysis
3.3 Different Kinds of Problems
3.3.1 Misunderstandings
3.3.2 Stereotypes and Prejudices
3.3.3 Intercultural Communication Apprehension
3.3.4 Fossiliation
3.4 Managing Intercultural Miscommunication
3.4.1 Framing
3.4.2 Perception and Acception
3.4.3 Repair

4 Resumee

Table of Literature

Table of Figures

figure 1: The connection between subcultures and main culture.

figure 2: The interrelation of communication, culture, and context.

figure 3: Example of asynchrony in interethnic conversation.

figure 4: Example of nervous laughters in interethnic conversation.

Table of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

Today’s world becomes smaller and smaller because of the development of new transport and technology. It becomes normal to move away from one’s home town e.g. in oder to find employment. Therefore, the need to communicate with people of one’s own culture (family, friends) increases.

Additionally, most people make use of the arising new opportunities and fly to foreign countries where we get into contact with people of other cultures. We try to stay in touch with them because technology allows for it: telphone, email, webcams, and chat make it possible for us to talk to someone e.g. in Australia as if s/he was actually here. It becomes normal for people to learn foreign languages and to communicate with people that belong to another nation in their surrounding aswell as in one’s own surrounding because people come to our country in order to get to know a different people, too. Today, the usage of foreign media is normal for us and exchange does not stop at national borders. We feel that our need to communicate in general becomes greater and greater.

Hence, we have to become sensitive to other people’s cultural and communicative specifics in order to enjoy the international exchange and to understand the other person in the right way. That means that we have to learn about intercultural/interethnic communication.[1]

Three complex building blocks in understanding intercultural communication can be defined and will be analysed in the first chapter: communication, culture and context. As communication and culture are interrelated and as they both interact with context, we first need to look at the former two.[2] Context then serves as the necesseray background against which intercultural communication can be understood.

The development of an understanding of intercultural communication will lead to an overview of problems in interethnic conversations, such as misunderstandings, stereotypes and prejudices, intercultural communication apprehension, and fossiliation. This then serves as a basis for outlining methods of how miscommunication can be solved.

2 Three Components of Interethnic Communication

2.1 Communication

Communication can be considered a complex core concept of intercultural communication, which comprises all verbal and nonverbal ways of communication that may be used by human beings in interpersonal contact.[3] This means that people do not need to talk to each other in order to transmit meaning. They can do so by merely using their body in a certain way. Nonverbal communication thus consists of gesture, facial expressions, posture, eye contact, etc., i.e. everything that can be seen and understood as conveying meaning.[4] Verbal communication deals with speech, intonation, pitch, rhythm, etc., i.e. everything that can be heard and defined as part of language. In interpersonal face-to-face situations, both components work together and help transmitting meaning from one person to the other.

This implies that communication should be understood as a certain form of dialogue, which means that there are at least two participants involved in any communicative act and that it hence has a social component: The first participant, the speaker, has the intention of transmitting meaning or, to put it more general, to influence the second participant, the reader, in a certain way.[5]

“Influence” here should be understood as making someone do something. “Do” refers to every possible internal reaction, e.g. quiet listening and/or thinking, that may lead to an external action, e.g. understanding the request for shutting the window and doing so. Ungeheuer described this process of influencing and understanding as the speaker’s intention of evoking certain attitudes in the listener who on this basis should be able to understand the speaker’s intentions by imitating his inner processes. As there is no such thing as telepathy between two human beings, speaker and listener need to make use of language in order to get to know the other’s unique world view. Therefore, communication can be understood as the link between the speaker’s and listener’s internal experiences.[6]

To sum up, communication has four components:

The first one is the anthropological component, outlined by the above statement that communication is an act between at least two human beings. There is no communication between animals as they do not have a consciousness. Second, communcation is social: The two participants have certain intensions when communicating, e.g. understanding each other. Third, participants of a communicative act refer to a socially learnt set of symbols and signs in order to transmit a message. Fourth, communication is always a process, which means that there are continuous changes during a communicative act (‘turn taking’) and that communication always refers to a certain context so that the same utterance may have different meanings to different participants in different situations.[7]

Hence, communication is always bound to the cultural and contextual background in which it takes place. When two people communicate, the speaker assumes that the listener receives the meaning of what was said as it was intended. This is more likely to be true if speaker and listener have some shared experiences, e.g. culture.

2.2 Culture

“Culture is not an exotic notion studied by a selected group of anthropologists in the South Seas. It is the mould in which we are all cast, and it controls our daily lives in many unsuspected ways.”[8]

Culture can be understood as a society’s personality. It is „the sum of total learned beliefs, values and customs that serve to direct the (...) behaviour of members of a particular society.“[9] When people share experiences and have a common way of understanding and acting in the world, they form such a society and can be regarded as part of the same culture. Members of a culture are either born into it (e.g. family) or became part of it later in life (e.g. friends). In either way, they learned what constitutes the culture they are part of.[10]


[1] The terms “intercultural communication” and “interethnic communication” will be used interchangeably.

[2] cf. Gumperz/Cook-Gumperz (1982), p.1.

[3] cf. Hinnenkamp (1994)

[4] cf. Martin/Nakayama (2000), p. 62.

[5] cf. Burkart (2002), p. 20; cf. Krallmann/Ziemann (2001), p. 11f.; cf. Martin/Nakayama (2000), p.62., cf. Gumperz/Cook-Gumperz (1982), p. 3.

[6] cf. Lenke/Lutz/Sprenger (1995), p. 72ff., cf. Unheheuer (1987), p. 290ff.

[7] cf. Goodwin/Duranti (1992), p. 22f.; cf. Krallmann/Ziemann (2001), p. 11ff.; cf. Martin/Nakayama (2000): p. 62.

[8] Hall (1959): p. 92.

[9] Schiffman (2001): p. 380.

[10] cf. Schiffman (2001): p. 406; cf. Martin/Nkayama (2000): p. 56f.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Context in Interethnic Communication
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Department of English)
Context, Contextualisation, and Sociolinguistics
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Context, Interethnic, Communication, Context, Contextualisation, Sociolinguistics
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Anne-Kathrin Müller (Author), 2005, Context in Interethnic Communication, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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