Culture as Context

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Junko Takahashi


The relationship between context and culture seems to result in certain patterns, forms, and linguistic or non-linguistic features. They are all packaged in a product called “text.” If we closely observe our own linguistic behavior, we can see how much all of these elements affect each other. From a discourse analytic perspective, culture is a necessary aspect to examine in order to infer what is truly occurring in a conversation. Gumperz (1982) suggests that no matter what the context is, “all verbal behavior is governed by social norms specifying participant roles, rights and duties vis-à-vis each other” (p.165). He warns us of the danger of misunderstanding the speaker’s intentions and meanings if we solely rely on our own cultural background to interpret the talk. For instance, Hill, Ide, Ikuta, Kawasaki and Ogino (1986) and Ide (2006) assert that a strict Japanese social code for politeness called “wakimae” (discernment) requires all Japanese speakers to comply with it without choice in their verbal activities. Japanese society emphasizes humility and one way this is realized is the use of the “non-acceptance” strategy in compliment responses.

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