Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cultural Grammar 

There is a tendency to forget culture's affect on communications, even something as basic as how one talks to another. This discussion of differences between Japanese and American speakers is interesting, particularly because the variations extend to the internet and how the two cultures create emoticons. The Japanese emoticon is as difficult to read for the American as the American is for the Japanese. One might think emoticons were a near-universal set of symbols. That they aren't shows the subtleties one should be aware of when communicating between cultures. Even simple expressions carry different cues and generate misunderstandings. This is why it will be a long time before there is reliable machine translation of text from one language to another.

As PR practitioners, we may not know the details of cultural differences but we must be aware of them and make sure they are accounted for in communications. Sometimes, it is too easy to hand copy off to a translator and to assume the translator has rendered it correctly. It is important to have a native speaker read the translated text and communicate back its meaning to see how understanding has changed. One will find it has. The question is how serious the loss of meaning has been and whether one can accept the result.


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