The movie The Joy Luck Club offers so many excellent examples of the conflicts, misunderstandings, and issues that can arise during intercultural communications, even when those involved are aware of many of the differences. Two concepts that I found particularly interesting and evident throughout the film were differences in language functions and differences in verbal style between Chinese American women and their mothers as well as their husbands.
Understanding Diverse Language Functions
Language and cultural values have a direct and interdependent relationship with one another. The language that we use to form our thoughts and perceptions is learned at a very early age on an unconscious level, meaning we don’t realize that we are forming thoughts and perceptions as a result of the words we are learning and the way that we use them. Different worldviews have a significant effect on the languages used in different cultures while simultaneously the languages used in different cultures contribute significantly to the worldviews of those cultures.
The two worldviews that divide Western and Asian cultures are the linear worldview, which is prominent in the United States and emphasizes rational and objective thinking and the relational worldview, prominent in Asian countries, particularly China, which emphasizes a more holistic thinking based on a contextual reality. Linear worldviews emphasize a rational thought process based on facts and evidence, with polarized or extreme views at each end, and a very analytical and specific view with a tangible outcome, while relational worldviews embody more of a continuum of connected thinking, context and relationship based big-picture outcome thought process. “…the Chinese use correlational reasoning notions that are deeply embedded in the Chinese worldview and are manifested via the Chinese language system.” (Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2005).
Within differing cultures, the language spoken, as well as the way it is used, have a significant effect on the way we perceive what is important and valued, or what matters and what doesn’t matter and what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for the different genders and roles. It affects what we perceive our roles to be, how we measure our worth, and what is expected of us and those around us. This is the social reality function.
Throughout the movie, The Joy Luck Club, we see numerous examples of this concept. The Chinese women were made to feel that one of, if not the most important role or behavior for them was obedience. When June was a young girl, she played piano. Her mother was adamant that she practice consistently. After a bad recital, when June refused to practice after school, her mother dragged her to the piano and forced her to play. When June exclaimed that she would never be the kind of daughter that her mother Suyuan wanted her to be, her mother told her, “there are only two kinds of daughters; obedient kind or follow own mind.” It was clear that obedience was the expectation. This was considered extremely important for Chinese females. As children they were expected to obey their parents and elders, and when they became wives, they were expected to be good, obedient wives to their husbands.
When Rose, another Chinese American woman in America, met her future husband in college and eventually married him, the perceptions and expectations that the Chinese culture engrained in her eventually resulted in her losing herself and becoming nothing more than a boring, nevertheless, obedient wife. Day in and day out, she did nothing but wait on her husband and do all the things she thought a “good wife” should do. She never expressed her own needs or opinions anymore. She did not want to create conflict between herself and her husband. That was the expectation that she understood she was to fulfill. Her husband, who was American and who fell in love with her originally because...