21G.221 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

Communicating in American Culture(s)

Topics to Guide Reading and Discussion

What Is the Nature of Culture and Language?

Part I

Study the materials and be prepared to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions: 

  1. Consider for discussion Some Questions to Ask about Culture.
  2. As you read Hall, E. and Hall, M. (1990), “Part I. Key Concepts: Underlying Structures of Culture,” pp. 3-31 in Understanding Cultural Differences, consider the following questions to guide your reading:
    • What are the three parts of the communication process?
    • Of the key concepts that Hall & Hall present, which were familiar before you read the chapter? Which were surprising?
    • What do the authors mean when they state the “essence of effective cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing the right responses than with sending the ‘right’ messages.”
    • Hall & Hall use many “word pictures” to explain how communication works. Identify at least two metaphors, similes, or extended analogies that work particularly well.
    • The cultural concept of time encompasses a number of features. What are they? Which are the most salient to you in the context of MIT?
    • What are the five principles of interfacing?
  3. Watch Lara Boroditsky’s talk on How the Languages We Speak Shape the Ways We Think. Consider the following questions to guide your viewing:
    • Who is the intended audience of the talk? What is the context?
    • Does the evidence presented by Boroditsky support the claim that ‘’the language we speak influence[s] our experience of the world"? Why or why not? Consider your experience with languages other than English as you consider this question.
    • How would you evaluate the scientist’s speaking skills? Think of concrete examples to support your evaluation.  

Part II

Study the materials and be prepared to contribute in an informed discussion of the following topics and questions:

  1. As you read Stewart & Bennett, Language & Nonverbal Behavior, consider the following questions and topics to guide your reading:
    • What do the authors mean when they say that Americans consider language as a “mechanism”? What are the implications of this attitude, and what examples from current American discourse can you provide to support or dispute the authors’ claim?
    • Do you find the Whorf hypothesis convincing?
    • The authors make some sweeping claims about what the structure and vocabulary of American English reveal about American thought and behaviors. How convincing do you find this argument?
  2. Linguist David Crystal claims that conversation rituals differ between/among genders. Has this been your experience? Think of examples in your life at MIT that support or refute this opinion and describe them.
  3. What does the Gillette “Me Too” ad campaign, and the different reactions to it, tell us about gender, culture, and communication?

Written response #1: Which features of nonverbal communication do you think are most salient in mainstream US culture? Which are most salient in your other culture(s)? Consider micro- and macro-cultures.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019