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Stereotyping Communicative Styles In and Out of the Language and Culture classroom: Japanese Indirectness, Ambiguity and Vagueness

Pizziconi, Barbara (2009) 'Stereotyping Communicative Styles In and Out of the Language and Culture classroom: Japanese Indirectness, Ambiguity and Vagueness.' In: Gomez Moron, Reyes and Padilla Cruz, Manuel and Fernandez Amaya, Lucia and De la O Hernandez Lopez, Maria, (eds.), Pragmatics Applied to Language Teaching and Learning. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. (In Press)

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Abstract

The stereotype of reserved and evasive Japanese people, whose language naturally fosters ambiguity and an intuitive and indirect style, pervades popular as well as pedagogical discourse. Despite evidence that, depending on the situation, Japanese can be fairly direct, this persistent stereotype often acquires normative status in language and culture instruction. While acknowledging research that disproves the stereotype and notes instances of Japanese directness, this paper maintains that such widespread stereotypical perception of indirectness must also be acknowledged and explained. Quantitative research, based on analyses of the presence or absence of specific linguistic markers, may fail to account for the subjective nature of perceptions of indirectness. Since linguistic meanings can be scattered throughout the utterance and emerge from the interaction of linguistic forms with situational and relational variables, an analysis focused on linguistic markers often entails that whatever is responsible for the perception of an indirect style goes ‘under the radar’. While acknowledging the existence of such genuine perceptions, in this paper I also note the socially ‘contentious' nature of stereotypes, that can be observed in the seamless shift from descriptive statements (about regularities in linguistic patterning) to evaluative statements (that qualify ‘the Japanese’). Stereotypical statements about the communicative style attributed to the Japanese fail to question the argumentative positioning of the evaluator, an issue that language pedagogy must be particularly weary of. The paper presents various definitions of ‘indirectness’ that conceptualize it as a solution to some sort of interactional tension. It then describes an ethnographic interview conducted by the author with two native speakers of Japanese, and through an analysis of this conversation tries to provide a reasoned interpretation of the mechanisms responsible for the author’s perception of indirectness during the face-to-face encounter. Indirectness is considered a metasign obtained by the interaction and convergence of various lower-level linguistic signs. Its interactional meaning, however, is not fixed but affected by the participants’ frames of interpretation, i.e. participants’ understanding of and expectations about the nature of the activity under way, including its goals and the allowed contributions. Additionally, the discussion uses Jackendoff’s (2007) composite notion of social values to show how an individual’s (verbal) behaviour, including the use of an indirect style, can be taken to signal different types of social values: affective, normative, utilitarian values etc. This can account for similarities as well as differences to the value systems of other individuals within the same group or culture, and permits to avoid essentializing and stereotyping statements. I conclude by highlighting the implications of this analysis for language teachers: the need to bring to the fore the participant’s interpretive frames (typically different and potentially conflicting in intercultural communication), and the need to adopt a more elaborated notion of social values that can account for individual variability within broadly shared cultural parameters.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
L Education > L Education (General)
P Language and Literature > PC Romanic languages
P Language and Literature > PL Languages and literatures of Eastern Asia, Africa, Oceania
Depositing User: dr. Barbara Pizziconi
Date Deposited: 05 May 2009 10:56
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/7274

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