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The differences in nonverbal communication between the american and muslim culture

The study examines how two cultures -- the Arab and the American culture -- have two distinct perspectives for viewing language and, as a result, two differing preferences for structuring persuasive and appealing messages.

Several frameworks for viewing cultural variations were used to develop a chart on "cultural communication preference" for Americans and Arabs. For the Arab culture, emphasis is on form over function, affect over accuracy, and image over meaning. An awareness of these cultural differences can help facilitate client relations, media training, and message appeals. International public relations is one of the fastest growing specialties within the field of public relations Botan, 1992; and Modoux, 1989.

However, while the area itself is growing, very little research has been conducted Pavlik, 1987, p. Most of the material available is anecdotal and lacks a theoretical base. This study focuses on how public relations practitioners can incorporate the dynamics of intercultural communication into their practice. The study specifically examines how two cultures -- the Arab and the American culture -- have two distinct preferences for structuring persuasive and appealing messages.

While the two styles are very different, most cultural differences tend to lie below the surface of one's awareness. Without a conscious awareness of how another culture is different from one's own, there is a tendency to see the differences of another through the prism of one's culture. This is how the phenomenon of ethnocentrism occurs. When ethnocentrism occurs, cultural differences are no longer neutral, but rather negative. As Norman Daniels 1975 said that when differences aren't perceived as differences, they are perceived as right and wrong.

This study, based on a cross-cultural rhetorical analysis Zaharna, 1994seeks to bring the cultural differences of the Arab and American rhetorical styles into conscious awareness. An awareness of these cultural differences can help facilitate client relations, media training, and the design of persuasive appeals. The study first explores the various cultural frameworks for visualizing how the two cultures differ.

These cultural frameworks are based on the theoretical works of intercultural scholars. The second section of the study specifically outlines what these cultural differences mean in terms of the role of language and designing persuasive appeals.

The final section briefly discusses the implications of these cultural differences for American public relations professionals who provide counsel to peoples from the Arab culture.

In light of the recent developments in the Middle East, learning about the Arab and American the differences in nonverbal communication between the american and muslim culture differences may be a timely prerequisite. Most intercultural scholars tend to view the Arab and American cultures as cultural opposites.

This section briefly reviews five theoretical frameworks useful in highlighting the salient differences among cultures. These theoretical frameworks were used to develop the cross-cultural chart of rhetorical styles at the end of this section. As a footnote, I should remind my reader that in speaking of cultural frameworks, I am referring by necessity to cultural generalities or cultural tendencies.

It is not uncommon for an individual's unique idiosyncrasies, personality or experience to override any number of cultural generalities.

Primary Sidebar

Further, with regard to the "American" culture, America is quickly becoming a multicultural society of many cultural groupings, each with its own communication style. However, in the discussion that follows "American culture" refers to characteristics documented by intercultural scholars see, for example, Stewart 1972, 1989. Many of these characteristic are still prevalent in the American mass media and public communication campaigns in the U.

Similarly with regard to the "Arab culture," the cultural patterns vary slightly across the 21 Arab countries. Hall views meaning and context as "inextricably bound up with each other" 1982, p. The difference between high and low context cultures depends on how much meaning is found in the context versus in the code.

Low-context cultures, such as the American culture, tend to place more meaning in the language code and very little meaning in the context. For this reason, communication tends to be specific, explicit, and analytical Ting-Toomey, 1985.

  • Older generations in Saudi Arabia may shake hands throughout an entire conversation, though this practice has not been completely handed down to the youth;
  • An awareness of these cultural differences can help facilitate client relations, media training, and the design of persuasive appeals;
  • The proclivity toward "doing" is found in such common American expressions as "How are you doing?
  • For an individual of the "being" culture, "what he is" carries greater significance than "what he does" Okabe, 1983, p;
  • But need to recognize;
  • In terms of power dimensions, those with more power in a relationship may be the one to initiate touch.

In high-context cultures, meaning is embedded more in the context rather than the code. As Hall states, "most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message" 1982, p. Thus the listener must understand the contextual cues in order to grasp the full meaning of the message.

People raised in high-context systems expect more from others than do the participants in low-context systems. When talking about something that they have on their minds, a high-context individual will expect his interlocutor to know what's bothering him, so that he doesn't have to be specific.

The result is that he will talk around and around the point, in effect putting all the pieces in place except the crucial one. Placing it properly -- this keystone -- is the role of his interlocutor. In low context cultures, the burden appears to fall on the speaker to accurately and thoroughly convey the meaning in her spoken or written message.

For a more extensive discussion of intercultural differences between high and low context cultures, see Hall 1976 and Ting-Toomey 1985. Levine 1985 introduced the cultural variations of directness versus indirectness and clear univocal versus ambiguity in communication patterns.

Levine said that the American cultural preference is for clear and direct communication as evidenced by their many common expressions: Levine's description of univocal and ambiguous communication further underscore the differences: Univocal verbal communication is designed to be affectively neutral. It aims for the precise representation of fact, technique, or expectation. Univocality works to strip language of its expressive overtones and suggestive allusions. Ambiguous communication, by contrast, can provide a superb means for conveying affect.

By alluding to shared experiences and sentiments the differences in nonverbal communication between the american and muslim culture associations can express and evoke a wealth of affective responses.

In contrast, ambiguous communication deliberately uses language to evoke an emotional response. Additionally, whereas univocal stresses openness, ambiguous styles would be more likely to conceal or bury the message. Similarly, univocal stresses specific factual and even technical aspects of a message that the ambiguous style would omit. One orientation focuses on activity, the other on being and becoming.

The activity orientation places a premium on "activity which results in accomplishments that are measurable" Kluckhohn, 1963, p. Stewart 1972 calls the activity orientation "doing.

The proclivity toward "doing" is found in such common American expressions as "How are you doing? Okabe 1983 contrasts the American "doing" culture to the Japanese "being" culture. He observes that achievement and development are not as important in a traditional vertical society such as Japan where an individual's birth, family background, age and rank is much more important. For an individual of the "being" culture, "what he is" carries greater significance than "what he does" Okabe, 1983, p.

In Arabic, the equivalent of "How are you doing? For a more detailed analysis on the Arab and American as doing and being cultures, see Zaharna, 1991. The print or literate dominant society relies more on the factual accuracy of a message than its emotional resonance Ong, 1980.

This may relate to the historical purpose of the written word -- to record, preserve, and transmit see, Stock, 1983. Literate societies also favor evidence, reasoning, and analysis over the less rational, more intuitive approach Denny, 1991. This contrasts to the logic of oral cultures, where a single anecdote can constitute adequate evidence for a conclusion and a specific person or act can embody the beliefs and ideals of the entire community Gold, 1988.

  • Several frameworks for viewing cultural variations were used to develop a chart on "cultural communication preference" for Americans and Arabs;
  • Thus there is a tendency to match words with deeds;
  • You go to a restaurant and order food by pointing at something;
  • Familial relationships in Saudi Arabia often require kisses on the cheeks upon greetings.

Whereas literate cultures may place a higher premium on accuracy and precision than on symbolism, in the oral cultures the weights are reversed. In oral cultures there appears to be greater involvement on the part of the audience, and this in turn, affects the importance of style and devices that enhance audience rapport.

Citing Cicero, Gold 1988 highlights numerous features of the oral tradition, including repetition as a means for keeping attention as well as making the speech "agreeable to the ear" p. In terms of message comprehension, Henle 1962 noted that auditors will "go to considerable lengths to make sense of an oral message" p.

Thus listeners play a valuable part in constructing meaning within an oral exchange.

Non-verbal Communication in Different Cultures

As Gold states, "the audience cooperates with the speaker by trying to understand the meaning or 'gist' rather than the actual content" 1988, p. Thus, the audience is quite active.

With heightened listener involvement, the aesthetics of style and audience relations may supersede the informational aspects of a message. An oral message may be valued more for its affective power than its cognitive merits.

Tannen 1982 noted the interpersonal involvement between speaker and audience, as speakers strive for a more emotional and participatory responses from their audience.

Clearly with style overriding substance, aural ornaments such as formulas, humor, exaggeration, parallelism, phonological elaboration, special vocabulary, puns, metaphor, and hedges are critical Feldman, 1991; Gold, 1988. In this divide, the American culture would be more representative a linear thought framework, and the Arab culture more configurational or non-linear.

According to Dodd, the linear orientation "has transformed auditory and oral communication into visual communication by means of written symbols, organized into linear thought patterns" 1982, p. The linear cultural pattern stresses beginnings and ends of events, unitary themes, is object oriented rather than people or event-oriented, and is empirical in its use of evidence. The cultures of configuration orientation involves the "simultaneous bombardment and processing of a variety of stimuli" so these people would think in images, not just words 1982, p.

The non-linear thought framework, according to Dodd, normally has multiple themes, is expressed in oral terms and heightened by nonverbal communication.

Time orientation is less important than people and events, and time is not segmented. Transfer of Information Several distinctive features can be distilled from the above cultural analysis about the American perspective on language see chart. As a low-context culture, one would expect language use as specific, technical and detailed. Speakers would be held responsible for being as accurate and factual as possible. In terms of direct, univocal culture, preference is for clarity, objectivity, and directness.

As a "doing" culture, with emphasis on action and measurement, there would be a call for words matching actions such as "Doing what one says," or "Walk the walk and talk the talk. Linearity also stresses presentation of singular themes; ie, one point followed by second point, followed by third, etc.

Points or facts are presented sequentially, in a linear progression. One "builds an argument" in a "step by step fashion" instead of "throwing things in all at once. Thus there is a tendency to match words with deeds. Finally, from a Western historical perspective, written language was viewed primarily as a means for record keeping the differences in nonverbal communication between the american and muslim culture documentation see Stock, 1983.

In other words, language appears to be a medium for conveying information. Focus again is on accuracy of content or substance. Style serves primarily as a means for enhancing the accuracy and truth of the substance. Creating a Social Experience Not only does the Arabic language reflect the variations discussed in the cultural divide, but several socio-historical forces have further influenced the role of Arabic for the Arabs.

These include Arabic's role as an art form, as religious phenomenon, and as tool of Arab nationalism.