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|EAVESDROPPING ON THE CULTURAL CONVERSATION
A course in language and culture
for students of American English
in Taiwan's Applied Foreign Languages Departments
By Ned Danison
PREFACE: TO THE TEACHER
Eavesdropping on the cultural conversation
Practically every foreign language learner has complained about conversations with native speakers in this way: "I can understand people when they speak to me one-on-one, but I can't keep up when they talk with each other." This is because native speakers draw upon all sorts of background knowledge which is implicit or obliquely referenced in conversations among themselves. Cultural minutia -- movie quotes, references to childhood TV commercials, popular songs, Shakespeare, the Bible, seafaring, etc. -- peppers ordinary English language conversations. Much of this is out of awareness to native speakers and language learners alike. Are most native speakers of English conscious, for example, of the biblical origins of an eye for an eye or the skin of my teeth when they use these phrases? In the same way, nonverbal and paraverbal messages -- hand gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, silence, rhythm and so on -- are part and parcel of a conversation. These are also out of awareness.
Media of every kind is essentially a conversation between native speakers. Language learners encountering media are, in a sense, eavesdropping on native speakers: Much background must be fleshed out for learners to follow the conversation.
Learning language in its cultural context
These materials were written expressly for courses in the Applied Foreign Languages Department with the word culture in the title. In short, my aim is to impart knowledge which will enable and assist students of American English to better understand the language in its cultural context by comprehending people as products of cultures. Without such an understanding, students can aspire only to wooden, literal translation, interpreting the foreign language in terms of their own culture. This knowledge is specifically anthropological, sociological and historical.
Anthropological: Linguistic and cultural sciences provide ideas such as world view, cultural symbols and patterns, and human universals that help us take the unwieldy, abstract "everything" of culture and conceptualize it concisely. Anthropological analysis helps us tease out cultural attitudes, values and beliefs.
This academic knowledge is the subject of the first part of the book, in which I keep in mind as much as possible that the teachers aren't anthropologists, and the students are expecting something practical and relevant to their language study, as should be expected in the Applied Foreign Languages Department. The theoretical content is, I hope, amply illustrated, and is coordinated with the online version of this book, which is chock full of audio-visual illustrations and reinforcements, teaching/learning aids, and links to Internet resources, as well as additional text.
The online version is at http//:www.language-and-culture.net
The practical application of this knowledge is, then, analyzing American English texts including stories, news articles, advertisements, video clips from TV and movies, and audio clips of voice and music available online.
Analyzing the cultural conversation: An example
Following is a randomly chosen example of a text, a brief news excerpt from the New York Times. It is analyzed in anthropological, sociological and historical terms -- that is, in terms of world view, social differential and history. The analysis draws on concepts expounded in this book.
New York Times Education News National Briefing, November 14, 2006
World view: We can easily recognize the ideal of equality, which is one of America's highest values. The writer's attitude is reflected in word choice. That differences in income levels between "racial" groups are described as "disparities" indicates that the writer believes inequality (not parity) exists, which is newsworthy because it is contrary to the ideal of equality. The disparities "persist" -- a word connoting intractability, not merely continuation -- and may also be "growing," which may as well read "getting worse."
Social differential: Noting that this article appears in the New York Times (NYT), we can assume it is written with a particular demographic in mind which, at the broadest level, consists of American English speakers (although the NYT makes appeals to a multicultural population). More specifically, the NYT speaks to an urban reader with an education level higher than high school, and a more liberal than conservative political orientation. Moreover, the article appears in the Education News section, which assumes such information is relevant, and of interest, to educators.
History: Race and ethnicity are writ large in American history. To be a citizen of the Nation of Immigrants, which hosted then abolished slavery, is to be mindful of cultural differences and disparities. Government offices such as the Census Bureau tabulate information in terms of "race" partly for purposes of social programs (such as begun in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s) aimed at rectifying disparities which may stem from racial discrimination. Such programs are not without controversy, nor is the practice of identifying citizens in rigid and unscientific categories of "race".
Thus an analysis from three angles gives the EFL reader some background against which to understand a news item in its cultural context. The three angles are not mutually exclusive -- there is much overlap -- and the analyses do not add up to a comprehensive view of issues involved, but they go a long way toward defining what the issues are and are not. A basic grounding in American world view, social differentiation and history imparts skills the EFL student needs to analyze American behavior, language and media independently.
The AFLD culture component
The first Applied Foreign Languages Department above the secondary school level opened at Kao Yuan Junior College (now Institute of Technology) in the fall of 1993. Designers of the curriculum included a required culture component called "A Survey of World Cultures" (世界文化概論). Curriculum planner Chweenmei Lin recognized that the study of language is also the study of culture, and as such, study of culture should be a course in its own right (Lin 1997, 1998). Therefore Kao Yuan's culture course was renamed "Language and Culture" (語言與文化). I was the first to teach this course, and drawing upon my undergraduate work in Cross-cultural Studies, I began to compile the materials that make up this book. That was well over ten years ago.
A quick survey of language-and-culture teaching materials in Taiwan's bookstores reveals three categories of books: 1) Simplified overviews of manners and customs, holidays and miscellaneous cultural items with no theoretical framework, 2) American culture readers providing an overview of attitudes, values and beliefs via authentic articles and stories, and 3) Technical treatments of intercultural communication drawing upon cultural anthropology and linguistics, apparently written for teacher training courses. This category includes Culture Bound (Valdes, ed.), Language, Culture and Communication (Bonvillain), Language and Culture (Kramsch), and Intercultural Competence (Lustig & Koester).
The three categories of books share in common that they are written in English from a Western point of view, intended for British and American markets. (I have found no texts specifically on the subject of encountering culture in American English written in Chinese from a Taiwan point of view.) Use of highly technical English textbooks in Taiwan's AFLD requires considerable time spent in textual explication -- time taken away from engaging students in the ideas presented. Moreover, AFLD goals are not primarily to prepare students for graduate study in linguistics, but to cultivate an awareness of culture, specifically related to students' future encounters with the people, language and media in their professional fields.
Content and style
I have tried to include, in gist at least, much of the content of the Valdes, Bonvillain and Kramsch books listed above, writing in a casual style in the first person, using personal anecdotes which parallel the research data presented in the technical books. The bibliography reflects my reading related to the subjects discussed. I have tried to keep examples and illustrations mainly Taiwan-oriented. Where possible, I have exploited my experiences as a foreigner encountering the Taiwan students I attempted to teach about encountering foreigners.
幾乎每個學外語的學生聽到以英語為母語者(以下簡稱母語者)的對話之後都會說: "我跟他們面對面說話時還算聽的懂,但是如果是聽他們彼此之間的對話我就跟不上了" 這是因為母語者在對話時會將他們共有的文化背景知識,隱含在她們自己的對話裡,所以只有他們才完全懂的彼此在說什麼. 電影對白,小時候看過的電視廣告,流行歌曲,莎士比亞,聖經,航海經驗等, 這些小事情都與文化有關,也都存在於日常美語對話中. 其實在訊息傳達中有關文化的部分對於母語者及學習外語者都很難察覺到. 你覺得大部分的母語者在使用 以牙還牙 (an eye for an eye) 或者是 好不容易才完成 (the skin of my teeth) 這句話時,會知道這些話的聖經出處嗎?同樣的, 非口語或口語的表達,例如手勢,臉部表情,語調,停頓,說話時的節奏等等都是會話組成的部分,而這些都是不自覺中所自然產生的表達方式.
這本書是特別寫給應用外語系的學生在上有關文化的課程所用的. 簡單來說,我的目標是將利用文化比較的方法將知識傳授給學習美語的學生,協助學生們從文化概念了解人都是文化的產物,進而藉此多了解美語. 如果沒有這層的了解,學生只能靠制式的文字翻譯,或者用自己的文化來解讀美語. 這些相關知識可分為人類學層面,社會學層面和歷史學層面.
人類學層面: 當我們要了解文化中抽象的概念時,語言學與文化科學可以提供所需的世界觀,文化符號與規則,還有人性. 人類學的分析則可以幫助我們了解文化態度,價值觀與信念.
社會學層面: 在不同的社會族群 (如年齡層,性別,社會地位,政治傾向等)裡面,語言是社交行為的一種. 我們可以運用社會學概念來從社會結構看語言,若我們了解不同的社會地位, 我們就可以經由訊息傳遞當中所牽涉到的文化了解更多語言的種類.
這本書的第一部分是探討相關學術理論, 我知道老師們不是人類學家,而且應用外語系所學生們也希望看到更多與語言學習有相關的例子.所以在書裡提到的這些理論其實是與這本書的線上版本互相呼應, 線上版本有許多生動的的視聽檔案, 教學及學習材料,還有其他有用的相關連結.
以下這個例子是自紐約時報隨機摘錄的文章, 如果用人類學,社會學和歷史學角度來看這個例子,也就是用世界觀,不同社群及歷史來加以分析. 這些分析用到了本書所要解釋的概念.
New York Times Education News National Briefing, November 14, 2006
世界觀: 我們在文章裡可看到平等這個概念,因為平等是美國重要的的價值觀之一. 這篇報導作者的態度反應在他的用字方面. 種族之間收入的距離, 他選擇用"disparities"這個字,其實就代表作者本身相信不平等仍普遍存在於不同的種族之間而這篇報導的新聞價值就在於它與大部分人們相信的人都是平等的相反. "persist"-這個字代表這個棘手的問題,還不只是在持續的狀態, 更有擴大的可能.
不同的社群: 這篇文章來自於紐約時報,我們可以說這篇文章是寫給說美語的讀者看的(雖然紐約時報也有很多其他文化的讀者). 從更細部來說,紐約時報的讀者群設定在受過高中以上教育且政治態度較開放的讀者.另外,這篇文章出現在教育版,表示這個新聞對於教育家來說是相關的.
歷史學的觀點: 種族和民族性在美國歷史上佔了很大部分. 身為一個曾經有過奴隸制度的移民大國,更要記住要注意文化差異及不平等的現象. 政府機關如國家人口調查局用種族"race"這個字有部分原因是根據1960年公民權運動時代就已興起的社會計畫(social programs),這個計畫的目標就是希望能夠改正從種族歧視所衍生出來的不平等. 不過, 這樣的計畫也不是沒有爭議,也不是要硬性將人民按照種族來區分.
台灣第一個開設應用外語系的中等學校1993年,在高苑工商專科學校(現已升格為高苑科技大學). 課程設計者覺得應該將文化相關課程包含在課程以內,故開設一門課叫做 "世界文化概論" .當初的課程設計者之一,林淳美老師覺得學習語言同時也是學習文化,所以應該獨立開設一個文化課程(Lin 1997, 1998). 所以高苑的文化課程改名為 "Language and Culture" (語言與文化) 當時我是第一個教授這門課程的老師, 所以在十幾年前我就開始收集相關資訊以作為我跨文化的學術研究的資料.
台灣書店有關文化與語言的教學教材大概可分為三類1) 簡單的禮俗,節日由來及各式各樣的跟文化有關的事物, 卻沒有學術理論為架構2)作者透過文章或故事概略地提供讀者美國人的態度,價值觀及信念3)顯然是寫給老師看的跨文化之人類學及語言學分析的專業書籍.這些專業的書籍包括 Culture Bound (Valdes, ed.), Language, Culture and Communication (Bonvillain), Language and Culture (Kramsch), and Intercultural Competence (Lustig & Koester).
這三類書籍的共同點就是都是以西方文化角度,而且是用英語寫的書. 目標是美國或英國市場.(我注意到市面上並沒有以台灣人的角度並且用中文寫成的美國文化分析) 如果要台灣的應用外語系學生使用專業的書籍,那她們就必須花很多時間了解文字內容,這樣的話學生就沒辦法研究書裡真正要表達的意義. 還有,應用外語系的目標並不是只要讓學生去考專業的語言學考試,而是要培養她們的文化認知,讓學生在未來遇見其他的人,語言及媒體時能專業的應對.
在本書要點的部分我引用了上述Valdes, Bonvillain and Kramsch等學者們的研究,我用第一人稱來寫這本書,加入了我個人的見聞再融合專業書籍裡的研究結果. 自傳的部分可以看出我在相關領域的涉獵.我書中的例子大部分都跟台灣有關係.我也將自己,也就是一個外國人,在台灣擔任老師教授”如何與外國人相處”的經驗寫出來.
Kramsch, Claire (1998). Language and Culture. Oxford University Press.
Lin, Chwenmeei. (1997). 應用外語科英文組專業程規劃研究. Kao Yuan Journal of Technology, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 1-6.
Lin, Chwenmeei. (1998). 五年制應用外語科英文組專業程規劃研究. Tainan, Taiwan: Fuwen Publishers.
Lustig, Myron & Jolene Koester. (2005). Intercultural Competence. Allyn & Bacon.
Valdes, Joyce Merrill, ed. (1986). Culture Bound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.