Culture, Language,
and Communication
 Language is a universal psychological ability
possessed by all humans.
 Language forms the basis for creation and
maintenance of human cultures.
 In many instances, language differences reflect
important differences between cultures.
The Structure of Language
 All languages have:
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Lexicon
Syntax and Grammar
Phonology
Semantics
Pragmatics
 Two key linguistic concepts:
 Phonemes: smallest, most basic units of sound in a
language
 Morphemes: smallest, most basic units of meaning
CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON
VERBAL LANGUAGE
Cultural Influences on Language
Acquisition
 Culture influences language acquisition from the
very early stage through the entire
developmental process.
 Culture influences all aspects of language.
 It is through use of language the an individual is
transformed into agent of culture.
 Culture has a powerful influence on verbal
and nonverbal encoding and decoding
processes.
 Culture affects not only language lexicons,
but also the function and/or pragmatics.
Language differences across cultures
 Culture and Lexicons

Self-Other Referents
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In U.S., the use of “I”, “we”, is prevalent, but in
Japan there are cultural rules governing how to
refer self and other. It is dependent largely on the
status relationship between you and the other
person.
This reflects importance of status and group
differentiation in Japan.
Language differences across cultures

Counting Systems
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Different objects counted by different suffix in
Japan.
Basis for number
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In Japanese (and many languages, including
Spanish), cultural meanings of numbers based on
the words for one through ten.
Language differences across cultures
 Culture and Pragmatics
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Drop of pronouns
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The dropping of pronouns occurs Less in
individualistic than in collectivistic cultures.
Language use and communication styles
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Collectivistic cultures use principle of equity
involving greater social penetration when
communicating with ingroups
Cultural differences in apology, self-disclosure
High vs. Low Context Cultures
 This has to do with the extend to which the specific
contents of messages are spelled out.
 In Low Context Cultures, everything is made crystal
clear; no need to read between the lines. “What part of
‘NO’ don’t you understand” mode of communicating.
 The opposite is true for High context Cultures. If you
don’t read between the lines and understand the cultural
context of the words used, you won’t get the meaning of
what was said.
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In-group vs. outgroup
communication,
Use of apologies,
Self-disclosure,
Compliments, and
Interpersonal criticism.
Link Between Culture and Language
 At a more technical level, culture can affect
the structure of thought processes ala SapirWhorf hypothesis.
 Despite legitimate criticism of the link
between culture and thinking, research on
bilingualism shows a close relationship
between culture and language.
Language and Thought:
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
 Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: speakers of different
language think differently because of differences in
languages.
 In support of Sapir-Whorf: Navajo children are
more likely to categorize objects by shapes than
European or African American children.
 Challenging Sapir-Whorf: Dani speakers did not
have lower ability to discriminate or remember
colors than Americans even though they only have
two color terms (dark and light).
Comments on Bilingualism
The unique circumstances surrounding
communication by individuals who speak
more than one language has generated much
interest among experimental psychologists,
psycholinguists. educators and politicians.
 I will address only a few of the more critical
issues.
Perceptions of Bilinguals
 People have negative impressions and stereotypes
about people communicating in their second
language.
 Foreign language processing difficulties:
cognitive difficulties while processing information
due to lack of fluency in speaking a language.
 Foreign language effect: temporary decline in
thinking ability of people using foreign language.
Language Development of Bilinguals
 The context in which the various languages
are acquired is a good starting point for our
discussion of bilingualism.
 Compound vs. coordinate development
Subordinate Development
Meaning
Language A
Language B
Compound Development
Meaning
Language A
Language B
Coordinate Development
Meaning
Language A
Meaning
Language B
Linguistic Interference
 “…those instances of deviation from
the norms of either language which
occur in the speech of bilinguals as a
results of familiarity with more than one
language.”
Types of linguistic interference
1.
2.
3.
4.
Semantic
Syntactic
Lexical
Phonological
 Linguistic Integration? The Tex-Mex
phenomenon.
Psychological Differences
as a Function of Bilingualism
 It’s often the case that bilinguals have two mental
representations of culture encoded in their minds.
 Some research even suggests language-related
shifts in personality.

Culture-affiliation hypothesis: immigrant bilinguals
tend to affiliated themselves with values and beliefs of
culture associated with language currently speaking.
Psychological Differences
as a Function of Language

Minority group-affiliation hypothesis: immigrant
bilinguals adopt behavioral stereotypes of majority
culture about their minority as their own.
 Code frame switching: bilinguals switch back and
forth from one cultural meaning system to the other
when accessing one language or another.
Cognitive independence vs.
interdependence
 Primary DV = Reaction Time
Blue
Green
Red
Red
Green
Blue
Azul
Verde
Amarillo
Overarching Conclusions
 Bilinguals access different cultural systems in their
minds when speaking their respective languages.
 Culture also affects nonverbal behavior. Despite the
well-documented universality of many facial
expressions such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear,
happiness, sadness, and surprise, as noted in
precious lectures, cultures differ in display rules for
these pan cultural expressions.
Overarching Conclusions
 In addition, there are well-established
cultural differences in gestures, gaze and
visual attention, interpersonal space, body
posture, and voice and vocal characteristics.
 Basically then, both verbal and nonverbal
encoding and decoding processes are
influenced by culture.
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Culture, Language and Communication