Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты

^ Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A.,
Far Eastern State University of Humanities, Khabarovsk

Can They Understand Us? Personal Experience of Communication with Japanese

Nobody doubts the importance of cross-cultural communication in modern times. The expansion of Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты economic activity, foreign investments in joint venture companies, tourism and the hospitality industry – these are just a few of many spheres where cross-cultural business and personal communication is of Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты the utmost importance. People are becoming more and more interested in other cultures and the more they learn about the rest of the world the better they understand their own.

Effective Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты cross-cultural communication means ‘immersion’ into the world of the foreign language used as lingua franca. In other words, it is important to take into consideration the fact that “a representative of another Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты culture can see the world differently. But how can that happen? What is it that they see, while I do not? What does it depend on?” [Gachev 1998].

Since our early childhood we have learnt Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты our language and through it we get a picture of the world before us. Getting new personal experience, we might change this picture of the world, somehow adapt it to cultures Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты in contact. However, for any person the basic and central image of the world is embedded in their own culture and language. This thesis is to be remembered in cross-cultural communication Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты: we see outer cultures through the lens of our mother culture and if we want to be understood and to understand others, we have to adapt our perception, our lens.

A Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты skeptic might ask why such a great country as Russia needs to understand “outsiders”, no matter if they are neighbors or people from a distant culture. A skeptic might say, “If Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты they want to communicate with us it is they who should adjust to us. This kind of approach can easily be explained by the national mentality, which includes a so-called self-stereotype i Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты.e. what people think about and how they perceive their own culture. The attitude towards another nation is reflected in a number of hetero-stereotypes, which are the basis for national Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты prejudices and fixed beliefs. Consequently people subconsciously perceive the behavior of a representative of a foreign culture from the point of view of their own culture. For instance, a ‘shrewd’ person in the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты self-stereotype, can become a ‘sly’ one in the hetero-stereotype; or persistence in the self-portrait is viewed as obstinacy by an outsider.

This opposition is fixed in the concepts of “foreign Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты, other”. In English it is named ‘foreign’, in Russian – “chuzhoi” (a stranger, foreigner), in Japanese –GAIJIN ( an outsider, foreigner). These words are opposed to those that name the concepts Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты “own” and “home”.

Every culture is very sensitive about the stereotypes other cultures might have about it. It is quite common to be more critical about other cultures, and self-stereotypes are usually Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты much more positive than hetero-stereotypes. To change the negative image of their country, for example, Japanese businessmen used to buy shares of Hollywood film-making companies which enabled them to influence Japanese Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты images in American movies. On the other хэнд, Caucasian appearance on a general scale is positively perceived in the Japanese culture, and so the appearance of popular Japanese animated characters Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты (anime) is changed to fit this idea of prestige.


Actually the most important concepts for effective cross-cultural communication are the concepts of “time” and “space”. For instance, for a Japanese person “contemporary history” (gendaishi Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты) starts in 1868 (since the Meiji revolution), whereas for a Russian it is the period after World War II.

The Japanese perceive “time” and “space” as a result of all the surrounding world Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты, in a rather specific way (from the point of view of other cultures) which sometimes has very subtle correspondence with Russian equivalents. For example, space and distance in Japanese culture Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты are divided into 3 parts: 1) “kore, kono, koko, kochira” (this, here, this way) – meaning the objects or space located closer to the speaker, not the listener; 2) “sore, sono, soko, sochira” (this/that Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты, here/there) – meaning the objects or space that are near, but closer to the listener, not the speaker; 3) “are, ano, asoko, achira” – objects or places that are rather far from both the speaker and the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты listener.

Within their own culture the Japanese follow some culturally common distance patterns when talking to people; the same is true of Russian culture. But what would happen if a Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты Japanese and a Russian are discussing something? A Russian might be trying to come closer to reach a comfortable conversational distance, while a Japanese would have the feeling of intrusion into his/her personal Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты distance. That is why a Japanese would try to move aside. In response, a Russian will try to come closer again, and a Japanese could interpret this as aggressiveness.

Another difficulty in Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты Russian-Japanese communication is based on the different types of contexts of these cultures. The Japanese culture is highly contextual which is revealed in the language and consequently in the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты Japanese world perception. When communicating, it is important to divide all objects and space into two zones: “this” and “that” for you and your interlocutor and not to forget that they Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты swap over depending on who is speaking at the moment. Moreover, demonstrative pronouns are also used when speaking about other people and places (the choice depends on whether they are familiar or unfamiliar Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты to the speaker and the interlocutor). For example, KONO HITO ( lit. this person, these people) – is used to indicate somebody who is now here, with us; SONO HITO (lit. this/that person Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты, these/those people) – in a conversation is applied for somebody known for the speaker, but unfamiliar for the listener; ANO HITO (lit. that person, those people) – is either used to point Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты at somebody who is seen now, but is rather far away spatially, or to speak about somebody who is not here now, but is familiar to both the speaker and the listener.

Posture and Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты gestures are also very important when communicating with the Japanese. For instance, it is extremely impolite to have your hands in your pockets when talking to somebody, especially to a person of Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты a higher status. The comfortable settling back in an armchair is perceived as unceremonious. Usually both interlocutors try to demonstrate mutual respect by sitting on the edge of a chair or Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты armchair.

Why does a smiling Japanese not really smile? A smile in Japanese culture serves to protect personal space, the inner world and is “face-saving”, which is extremely important for the Japanese. “To Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты lose face” means not only the violation of cultural and civil norms, but also to burden other people with your problems. So “a smile” can become a kind of a Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты mask to hide your grief, disappointment, sorrow or embarrassment etc. The Japanese keep smiling even when they are overcoming a private grief, because in Japanese culture it is considered unacceptable to bother Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты other people with personal afflictions. This kind of approach contradicts European culture and is often misinterpreted as the hypocrisy, heartlessness and cruelty of the Japanese.

Another peculiarity of Japanese cultural world perception Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты is worth mentioning. It is the implied division of the world into two parts: UCHI (lit. my, inside) and SOTO (lit. outside, foreign), realized in such oppositions as “mine vs. other’s”, “my family Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты vs. another family”, “my company vs. another company”, “my town vs. another town”, “my country and people vs. a foreign country and its people”. For example, when visiting a foreign country the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты Japanese cannot help calling the native population of the country GAIKOKUJIN/GAIJIN literally meaning “outsiders, strangers, foreigners”. This approach to world perception leads to two quite different tendencies in the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты behavior of the Japanese. On the one хэнд, the Japanese use elevated language (realized in norms fixed on grammatical and lexical levels of Japanese) when speaking about something or somebody from “SOTO Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты” field, and pejorative language when speaking about “UCHI” field. On the other хэнд, when visiting a foreign country the Japanese permit themselves to do such things as they would never do in their Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты own country. The combination of these excluding tendencies in behavior is often viewed as hypocrisy, but for the Japanese it is natural because they are acting “outside their circle”.

Moreover Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты, this division is seen in the attitude of the Japanese toward foreigners studying the Japanese language. The Japanese are very proud of their native language and are confident that it is the most Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты unique and the most difficult language in the world. So when foreigners try to speak Japanese, using very basic words and expressions, the Japanese tend to over-praise and over-admire the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты attempts. However, the better a foreigner speaks Japanese, the less praise he or she gets and the more often they are told that their level is quite enough. In other words, the Japanese Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты are very cautious and even suspicious of somebody intruding too much into their territory, and their language.

Russian-speaking and oriental cultures also differ in the way they negotiate or make decisions Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты. A representative of an oriental culture (which is highly contextual, more closed, depending on the situation, social status and relationships) can be quite slow at making decisions. To make a Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты decision it is very important to analyze where, how, with whom and in what circumstances you are communicating. During business negotiations the Japanese can talk about various things, not connected with the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты main topic for a long time. This approach allows the Japanese to learn more about the potential partner to structure their actions and then decide whether to adjust to the partner or to oppose Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты him or her with the least damage possible. That is why it is so difficult for the representatives of ritual cultures to adapt to cross-cultural communication as they are always Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты concerned with the so-called “code of conduct”.

In the business world the Japanese following their cultural norms often unintentionally mislead other businessmen because they can not refuse directly. The Japanese would Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты try hard to find various possible excuses not to contradict the partner because it is extremely impolite in their culture. It is very common for oriental cultures to use a “maybe Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты” or “it is possible” reply instead of direct rejection. The Japanese language also contributes to saving the harmony of relations, as the verb usually placed at the end of an utterance does not make it Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты sound negative. The Japanese word HAI is often directly interpreted as a positive answer “Yes, I agree or accept”, although in most cases it means “I see/I’m listening Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты to you/I understand what you are saying”, which leads to misunderstanding and wrong conclusions.

It important to stress that some researchers consider the context of communication important both in oriental cultures and Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты in Russian one. The Russian language is also characterized by some vague expressions such as “for some reason, somehow, probably”. Such phrases make it very difficult to translate Chekhov’s prose Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты into European languages and they are often omitted. However, this kind of vagueness, which is a characteristic of the Japanese language as well, contributes to Chekov’s popularity in Japan.

Europeans think that the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты Japanese mentality is contradictive and this is reflected in their attitude towards their language. For example, more than 10% of the modern Japanese language is the words borrowed from other languages (mainly Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты American English) a so-called GAIRAIGO. However, most of the Japanese are not fluent in English (except for those who use English for business).

What are the reasons for the Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты contradiction between the popularity of English and passivity in mastering it? One of famous Japanese sociolinguists, Takao Suzuki states that the Japanese society is one of the most open for new things and Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты ideas; however, it has always been difficult for the Japanese to communicate with foreigners. […] The Japanese are not xenophobes, but xenophigs i.e. people who try to avoid foreigners [2].

Thus, what Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты is significant in one culture might be trivial or ignored by another. That is why it is so important to understand the culture of your overseas partners and treat them with respect. They are Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты not worse than us, they are different and they have the right to be such. The more positive we are towards the culture we deal with, the more effective our cross-cultural Yuzefovich N.G., Bordilovskaya A - Культурно-языковые контакты communication is.


References

  1. Gachev, G.D. Natsional’nye obrazy mira: kurs lektsii. – Moscow: Akademia, 1998. – P. 15.

  2. Cited in Alpatov, V. M. Zachem yapontsam gairago? http://rusiia-japan.nm.ru/ – Accessed Dec 24, 2005.





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