02 december 2005

The Greatest Belgian

According to the Flemings, Father Damian is the Greatest Belgian of all time (link to article in Dutch). For most Flemings it was quite obvious that he would be the chosen one. But the following question remains: do non-Belgians know Father Damian? Do you know what he stands for? Do you know why he deserves to be the Greatest Belgian? Why could he represent Belgian culture?

Christmas traditions all over Europe

Christmas is only a few weeks ahead. I got this link from BBC. Following it, you could learn something about Christmas traditions in Spain, France, Germany and Italy. Interesting stuff, I can assure you. Any X-mas particularities in your culture?

28 november 2005

Lecture 9: Verbal Intercultural Communication (2)

Sapir-Worf Hypothesis (linguistic determinism)

Language determines the way in which people think
  • Language = a prison; once people learn it, they are affected by its particulars;
  • Effective and successful translation between two languages is never possible;
  • So: competent intercultural communication is an elusive goal.

Light version:

  • Language shapes people and the way they think

Sapir-Worf's main focus was on variations in vocabulary and grammar:

  • Variations in vocabulary
    e.g. classical Arabic has 1000s of words for camel;
    e.g. colours: Kamayura (Brazil) have one word for blue and green (parakeet coloured); Dani (West New Guinea) have only two words for colours (dark and light);
    e.g. Some languages have one word to refer to grandparents, others (like Swedish) have four different words
  • Variations in grammar
    e.g. cultural conceptions of time: English (specific point on a linear plane divided into past, present, and future) vs. Hopi (time is an ongoing process, present will never actually arrive, but will always be approaching).
    e.g. respect: English (you) vs. Dutch (informal jij and formal u)
    e.g. pronouns: I (with capital!) vs. Vietnamese (12 words for I), Chinese (10), Japanese (over 100!)


  • Language definitely shapes and influences our thoughts and behaviour, perhaps more than we are aware of...;
  • Knowing more than one language = broadening your personal view on the world;
  • Of course, there is always non-verbal communication as well...

Lecture 9: Verbal Intercultural Communication

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." (L. Wittgenstein)

Let's start with a few examples:
Englishman meets American - they will use English
Scandinavian meets Dutchman - they will use English
Englishman / American / Canadian / Australian meets Belgian - they will use English
Is that a fair thing to do from a business point of view?

Interesting features of language:
  • language is learned (so is culture...)
  • some aspects: typical in one language, lack in others (e.g. use of tenses)
  • spoken first, then written; BUT: written language is stronger (Why?)
  • verbal code = phonology + morphology + semantics + syntactics + pragmatics

Interpretation is the key word (// interpreter - cf. also localisation)

We have to look for equivalences between two different languages.

Types of equivalence:

  • vocabulary equivalence: word by word
  • problem: Igbo (Nigeria) has no word for window (they refer to it as opening)
  • idiomatic equivalence
  • problem: "put this tape on the television" (what do you exactly mean?)
  • grammatical-syntactical equivalence: e.g. difference between English and Turkish / Chinese / Finnish
  • experiential equivalence: e.g. if you want to talk about the "television", it means that you either have a television or at least that you know (from experience) what a television is.
  • conceptual equivalence: e.g. snow in Inuktitut is not just snow.

Integration: Iceland

The group of international students working on Iceland have done a nice job so far. The text so far is a nice mixture of general cultural information (e.g. languages spoken in Iceland) and specific information that could be useful when visiting Iceland for business purposes (e.g. names and greetings - using first names). I would like to focus on the less known aspects of Icelandic culture, because knowing them could make the whole difference in negotiations.

Here is their linklist of the group working on Iceland: