Silence During Intercultural Communication: a Case Study

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Silence during intercultural communication: a case study
Misa Fujio
Tokyo Fuji University, Tokyo, Japan
Keywords Communication, Cross-cultural management, Languages, United States of America, Japan Abstract This is a case study of USA-Japan intercultural communication, analyzing a one-hour meeting between a US manager, a Japanese manager and a Japanese junior staff member of a US company operating in Japan. The study focuses on miscommunication caused by pragmatic transfer from Japanese, especially relating to silence, the ambiguity of “yes”, and different strategies of politeness between the US and Japanese managers. It is also discussed how both native and non-native speakers should make their approach in order to understand each other and co-construct the conversation in intercultural communication in an age when English is becoming a global language and could be separated from the cultures of English-speaking countries.

Silence during communication


Introduction As Barnard (1938) states, “communication” is one of the three essential elements to form an organization, as well as “common purpose” and “willingness to serve”. In fact, the influential power of communication could be a determinant of a corporate culture when communication is taken from various facets: not only as exchange of information, but also as collection, storage, reproduction and transfer of information. Especially, the role of communication is crucial in the case of global companies where serious miscommunication could be caused by cultural elements as well as linguistic ability: little shared knowledge in cultural behaviors, business customs, the way of discussion or communication styles. As many studies have pointed out (Barnlund, 1975; Hall, 1976; Condon, 1984; Hofstede, 1991), the Japanese communication style is unique and in a sharp contrast with the English one. One of the widely accepted differences from the Western culture is the way of thought-organization, represented as “gyre” pattern, which develops and conveys ideas rather indirectly and implicitly, while the thought-organization in English is “linear” pattern, which develops ideas linearly from the beginning to the end. This type of uniqueness in the Japanese communication is more specifically explained in Kameda (2001): . A roundabout pattern: Japanese often speak in a roundabout manner in contrast with Westerners, who prefer expressions that are to the point. . Explanation first pattern: Japanese start with an explanation or background and follow it with the point of what they are getting at. . Non sequitur pattern: Japanese dislike specifying things down to the last detail or do not feel it necessary when speaking with one another. Therefore, the interlocutor has to figure out the parts that have been left unsaid.

Corporate Communications: An International Journal Vol. 9 No. 4, 2004 pp. 331-339 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1356-3289 DOI 10.1108/13563280410564066

CCIJ 9,4

In this study, actual data taken from a US-based global company is analyzed, focusing on how miscommunication is triggered through such ambiguity of Japanese participants and how the meaning is negotiated following the miscommunication, from the viewpoint of language and culture, that is, pragmatics. Furthermore, it is discussed how both native speakers and non-native speakers should approach each other in intercultural communication. Pragmatics and pragmatic transfer Pragmatics is defined as “the study of how language is interpreted by its users in its linguistic and non-linguistic context” (Johnson and Johnson, 1998) and covers a wide range from the linguistic aspect (pragmalinguistics) such as direct versus indirect expressions to the cultural and social aspect...
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