Different Cultural Patterns

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Investigationes Linguisticae, vol. IX, Poznań, April 2003


Understanding Different Cultural Patterns or Orientations Between East and West∗ Liu Qingxue
∗∗

Shijiazhuang Mechanical Engineering College Hebei, CHINA
liuqx1952@yahoo.com.cn

Abstract
Rudyard Kipling says in the Ballad of East and West: “East is East, and West is West; and never the twain shall meet.” Yet, he never expected that with the technological development in transportation and communication, the Westerners and Easterners that have quite different cultures respectively would meet so frequently nowadays in international settings. However, in a sense, Kipling is absolutely correct in that people with different cultural patterns (including beliefs, values, attitudes, norms, customs, and material aspects), especially those from East and West, do encounter communication difficulties, breakdowns, misunderstandings and even conflicts and confrontations just because they fail to understand each other in their intercultural communication. The study of intercultural communication is not something new. However, the perspective from which the author probes into the problematic interaction between Easterners and Westerners is something different. In the paper, the author compares some major cultural patterns: high-context communication vs. low-context communication, individualism vs. collectivism, equality vs. hierarchy, and assertiveness vs. interpersonal harmony. Each of these cultural patterns is defined by examples, two opposite patterns are contrasted, and then potential problems are presented, thus making quite obvious the differences between East and West and their possible consequences in the intercultural communication. Understanding these cultural patterns or orientations which underlie most common behavior of the Easterners and Westerners helps us to see beneath the surface to find out why people from East and West act as they do. This discovery may lead us to appreciate the rich diversity and genius that exist in different parts of the globe, avoid potential intercultural problems and become successful communicators in the interaction between East and West.

1. Introduction
In studying the subject of intercultural communication, the first question we raise might be “What is culture?”. As early as 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn listed 164 definitions of culture that they found in the anthropology literature [1]. And, of course, many new definitions have appeared since. The author is very grateful to Prof. dr. hab. Wanda Krzemińska, Institute of Linguistics, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, for her helpful suggestions and professional guidance. For any controversial viewpoints and mistakes in the paper, the author himself is responsible. ∗ ∗ The author, Professor of English, Shijiazhuang Mechanical Engineering College, Hebei, the People’s Republic of China, is now visiting the Institute of Linguistics, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland.

Investigationes Linguisticae, Vol. IX According to Bates and Plog, “Culture is a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning”[2]. This definition includes most of the major aspects of culture on which scholars currently agree: patterns of thought (shared meanings that the members of a society attach to various phenomena, natural and intellectual, including religion and ideologies), patterns of behavior, artifacts (tools, pottery, houses, machines, works of art), and the culturally transmitted skills and techniques used to make the artifacts. It is generally assumed that “belief systems are significant to the study of intercultural communication because they are at the core of our thoughts and actions. They are our conviction in the truth of something. They tell us how the world operates”[3]. Values are, according to...
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