Communication Style and Cultural Features in High/Low Context Communication Cultures : a Case Study of Finland, Japan and India

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Communication Style and Cultural Features in High/Low Context Communication Cultures: A Case Study of Finland, Japan and India

Shoji Nishimura1, Anne Nevgi2 and Seppo Tella3
1 Waseda University, Japan
2 Department of Education, University of Helsinki
3 Department of Applied Sciences of Education, University of Helsinki

People from different countries communicate in ways that often lead to misunder-standings. Our argument, based on Hall’s theory of high/low context cultures (1959, 1966, 1976, 1983), is that these differences are related to different communication cultures. We argue that Japan and Finland belong to high context cultures, while In-dia is closer to a low context culture with certain high context cultural features. We contend that Finnish communication culture is changing towards a lower context culture. Hall’s theory is complemented with Hofstede’s (2008) individualism vs. collectivism dimension and with Lewis’s (1999, 2005) cultural categories of communication and Western vs. Eastern values. Examples of Finland, Japan and India are presented.

Keywords: high/low context culture; communication style; culture; cultural features; individualism; collectivism; Finland, Japan; India.

Aim of This Article
It is generally acknowledged that people from different countries tend to communi-cate in slightly different ways. We argue that these differences are more related to different communication cultures than other differences. Being aware of these differences usually leads to better comprehension, fewer misunderstandings and to mutual respect. Our aim in this article is to describe, analyse and interpret communication style and certain cultural features in Finland, Japan and India.

We base our arguments on Edward T. Hall’s concept (1959, 1966, 1976, 1983) of high context (HC) and low context (LC) cultures. This concept has proved valid and useful in transcultural studies (Kim, Pan, & Park, 1998). We also refer to Lewis’s (1999, 2005) cultural categories of communication and Western vs. Eastern values, and to Hofstede’s (2008) collectivism–individualism dimension. As far as we know, no previous study has discussed these three countries together from the aforemen-tioned perspectives.

This article hopes to contribute to foreign language education, transcultural commu-nication, transcultural studies and multiculturalism.

Hall (1959) defines culture as the way of life of a people: the sum of their learned behaviour patterns, attitudes and materials things. Culture is often subconscious; an invisible control mechanism operating in our thoughts (Hall, 1983). In his view, we become aware of it by exposure to a different culture. Members of a certain society internalise the cultural components of that society and act within the limits as set out by what is ‘culturally acceptable’ (Hall, 1983, p. 230).

Hofstede’s (1980, 1991) theory aims to explain cultural differences through certain dimensions, such as power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity vs. femininity. Of these, we use the individualism vs. collectivism dimension. This dimension is defined by Hofstede (2008) as “the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side, we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose … On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families …”.

Context is defined as the information that surrounds an event; it is inextricably bound up with the meaning of that event: “The cultures of the world can be compared on a scale from high to low context” (Hall & Hall, 1990, p. 6).

High vs. Low Context Cultures
Hall (1976) suggested the categorisation of cultures into high context versus low context cultures in order to understand their basic differences in communication style and cultural issues....
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