The Myth of Cultural Miscommunication

One of my links is to the blog Savage Minds, which is run by a group of anthropologists including Kerim Friedman. Kerim has a recent post on the concept of cultural communication. The idea of cultural communication and miscommunication is widely used in language teaching and is sometimes discussed as a component of integrative motivation. Courses on cultural communication are widely taught in language teaching programs and it is not hard to find among language teachers the idea that cultural miscommunication leads to political problems between nations.

The post from Savage Minds takes the exact opposite perspective on this. The post addresses a long standing issue on the blog of the use of academic anthropologists by the US military. It makes the point that much of what gets referred to as cultural miscommunication is really attributable to other aspects of the interpretation process, such as poor translation skills and lack of concern.

I’d like to warn readers that the video linked to in the post can be quite upsetting  and contains a lot of very disturbing language.

For some expert commentary on the post from other bloggers, have a look here.


Linguistic Anthropology


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I have a question about recruitment agencies. Are they a good idea or not? Thanks.


Language and culture cannot be separated! Language IS culture. A good definition of culture is that it is the sum total of all possible meanings within a given language. Any definition of culture that displaces the centrality of language is partial and superficial. Some meanings in one language just cannot be translated into another. To function effectively in another culture you must speak the language. And if the US military was staffed by people who spoke Afghan languages they would advise the US government to get US forces out of Afghanistan right now, obviously.
Keep blogging Scott.

Gary, thanks for the comment. I used to think that much of this Iraq fiasco could have been avoided if the US military and government had only had the advice of the best social science. My understanding is that especially in the planning and earliest days of the occupation, there was a great of consultation and decision making that involved commentary about the nature of Iraq society and how it would respond. The failure to do this resulted in poor choices about how things should be run.

But I think Kerim’s point is that there’s something about the US military as an organization that makes this impossible. It is not the kind of organization that would seek out the best social science opinions.


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