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The Role of Culture in Discourse Essay

1.0 Introduction Discourse, its etymology comes from Latin, discursus (which means “running to and fro”) is the term that concerns with spoken and written communication. In linguistics, discourse is a unit of language longer than a single sentence. More broadly, discourse could be the use of spoken or written language in a social context.

According to Hinkel and Fotos (2002) in New Perspectives on Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms, discourse in context may consist of only one or two words as in ‘stop’ or ‘no smoking’. Instead, a piece of discourse can also be hundreds of thousands of words in length, represented by some novels and a typical piece of discourse is said somewhere between these two extremes.

Discourse is in a way language is used socially to deliver broad meanings as it is identified by the social conditions of its use, by who is using it and under what conditions. From my point of view, language can never characterized as ‘neutral’ because it reflects our personal, knowledge and background of our social worlds. Hence, discourse analysis concerns with investigating the form and function of what is said and written. It covers with an extremely wide range activities from narrowly focused investigation of how words such as ‘oh’ or ‘well’ are used in casual talk to the study of the dominant ideologies in a culture for instance like in its educational or political practices.

Linguistic discourse analysis focuses on the record of the process by which language is used in some context to express intention. A well formed-text constructed by, firstly; an explicit connection between sentences in a text that create cohesion while secondly, the elements of textual organization that are characteristics of storytelling, expressing an opinion and etc. Meanwhile, the pragmatic perspective of discourse analysis specialized on aspects of what is unsaid (or unwritten) but yet communicated. Even the data from sign languages of the deaf, and some works with textual graphics and images can be a part of works of discourse analysts.

As the title of the article is ‘The Role of Discourse in Culture’, it would be incomplete with the absence of culture definition. We tend not to think about our culture since it is so much a part of us that we take it for granted but when we become aware that other peoples have different feelings, different beliefs and different habits from ours, we start to think of how we share certain ideas and customs.

For instance, we would not realize that our beliefs in germs was cultural if we were not aware that people in some societies think that illness and diseases is caused by witchcraft or evil spirits. We would not become aware that it is our custom to sleep on beds if we were not aware that people in certain societies sleep on the floor or on the ground. It is only when we start to compare ourselves with people in other societies that we become aware of cultural differences and similarities. Culture, then, refers to the set of learned behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideals that are characteristic of a particular society or population. (Ember & Ember 2002).

According the anthropologist, Ralph Linton, culture refers to the total way of life in any society, not simply the higher or more desirable one like playing piano or reading literature. For the social scientist such activities are part of the totality of our culture and this totality includes such mundane activities as washing dishes or driving an automobile. In addition, for the purposes of cultural studies, such activities stand quite a par with the desirable one. Social scientists regard every society owns a culture, no matter how simple it may be and every human being is cultured in the sense of participating or immersed in some culture or other. (Ember & Ember, 2002).

2.0 Western & Eastern Discourse

2.1 A Comparison between Chinese and Western Classroom Discourse The classroom setting in China is more likely hierarchical-face system oriented and assumes more respects given towards the teacher. The teacher would value students who are more compliant and quiet in class, listen and follow his instruction with no conditions. He prefers standing in the front of the classroom with more dignity and authority, doing a most noble job of transmitting knowledge and truth to the students.

The atmosphere in Chinese classroom is usually serious and solemn as students are arranged sitting in lines and rows straightly, listen to the teacher and should not interrupt the teacher’s talk with questions. Showing respects to the teachers is an obligation even after class time. It is considered impolite and even rude for students to call their teacher by the name. On the other hand, a lateral face system oriented in the classroom setting in Western demanding more individual identity in class, not expecting his students to be so obedient and quite as the Chinese students are.

Instead, students in Western are encouraged to have more individuality of their own by expressing more of their personal opinions. Hence, it can be said that the atmosphere in Western classroom is more relaxed. Students can sit on the floor, ask question to the teacher any time they want, which may be during the teacher’s lecture or after the teacher’s lecture. These behaviors are not regarded as impolite or rude, but acceptable in Western cultures.

The way of addressing between teachers and students is also quite dissimilar between Western and Chinese culture. In Chinese classroom, teachers are always addressed formally by the students even outside the classroom or after graduation with a title of “teacher” and his surname such as “Teacher Wang”. This is applied for all students from all ages from kindergarten until university level because in Chinese culture, no matter where and when, they should address people who had ever taught them “teacher” formally as a sign of showing respect. Teaching is regarded as the noblest job in Chinese culture.

2.2 Eastern and Western Worldview There is a great difference between the cultures of Europe and Asia. Rudyard Kipling, the well known English poet had once expressed his view that the two can never live together and co-operate as equals. The East stands for spiritualism while the West for materialism. People of the East care more for the development of the soul and for life after death than for the life in this world and for physical comforts. In the meantime the Westerners, one the other hand, are worldly minded.

They are seemingly care less for any future life, but want to enjoy their present life. Hence, we can see that there is a mad race for wealth, luxury and comfort in the West; everyone struggles to be at the top. The East has been the birthplace of the great religious teachers such as Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, etc, and it was here that they lived and preached. The West, on the other hand, is the home of modern science and technology. Many wonderful and great inventions have been made for the betterment of life. As for freedom of speech, the Westerner practice more freedom of speech rather than The Easterners.

2.3 A Comparison of Korean and American Discourse (Language and Mannerism) When considering diving in Korean Language, one must aware with the level of formality because Korean is very much concern with speech level. There are seven verb paradigms or speech levels in Korean, and each level has its own unique set of verb endings which are used to indicate the level of formality of a situation. Speech level is different from honorifics, which are used to show respect towards someone mentioned in the sentence.

It is used to show respect towards a speaker’s or writer’s audience and reflect the level of formality of the situation. For instance, the use of verb ending ‘합니다’(hamnida) /hamnɪda/ is in formal context or when speaking to older people such as seniors, elders or to someone whom we do not know well or we need to show some respect manner to. Meanwhile, the use of verb ending ‘해요’(haeyo) /hæjoʊ/ is appropriate for semi-casual context. To reduce the level of formality, the use of verb ending ‘해’(hae) /hæ/ is normally used and it is suitable when speaking to friends and younger people. Omitting the verb ending ‘haeyo’ and ‘hae’ and just using the root word, it is meant for more casual speech, suitable to be used towards someone close to you. Below are the example of saying “I am sorry” in Korean according to speech level.

While discovering the variation of formality in Korea, it can be said that English also has different level of formality. The difference is that, English does not have certain fixed rules about it. The level of formality should be determined by the expectations of audience and purpose of writing or speech. For example, writing a cover letter for a job application or a college academic essay, it should be in a formal style. It is different when it comes to writing a letter to a friend, writing something personal, or even writing something for a humorous or special interest magazine when informal writing is expected, a more informal style is much more suitable. Formality exists on a scale. Below is the example of different ways in talking to various people in discussing last night’s football game:

1. To a close friend: “How good was that game, dude? Bloody terrific hey?” 2. To someone known but are not close to, such as parent or a friend: “I heard that the Lions had an awesome win last night.” 3. To a stranger in a lift: “Did you by any chance see the Lions game last night?”

As moving away from people we know closely, we are getting more and more formal in speech. In a casual speech like the first example, the use of some slang will make certain speech sound more informal. The word ‘dude’ is an American slang term for individual, typically male. The same goes in writing – the level formality depends on a situation as well as the type of audience.

Nowadays, people are so much immersed with many social networking sites that connect people around the world such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogs, internet forums and etc. This phenomenon leads to the existence of new type of language, which is internet slang or cyber slang. The primary motivation behind using internet slang is believed to ease communication as it saves time for the writer. Even the use of internet slang are becoming more popular nowadays, it is difficult to provide a standardized definition of internet slang due to the constant changes made to its nature.

While discovering about mannerism between Western and Korean culture, it is obviously that some of them are totally opposed to each other. Westerners are very commonly do handshaking, waving, beckoning, blowing kisses, high fives, snapping fingers, crossing fingers, and other gestures using their hands and fingers; such mannerisms are not native to the traditional Korean society and often considered impolite and rude (Kublin, 1995; Hofstede, 1980).

Other than that, Western people shows public displays of affection (PDA) and openly express their love by kissing, hugging, and other bodily actions, but Koreans have traditionally been refraining from such mannerisms in public. (Herbig, 1998). Besides that, the perception on having facial hair is also poles apart between these two cultures. Koreans tend to look at facial hair slightly in a different way from Westerners. Where some facial hair might be acceptable in a professional setting in Western, it is seen as unrefined in Korea. While a thick man-forest of cheek hair might be a symbol of pure sturdiness in the Western, it is looked as decrepit and old in Korea conversely.

2.4 Hollywood vs. Bollywood Movies Bollywood movies are long because they do have singing and dancing, but it also gives the masses a chance to get out of the heat of India and the tiring labor works into some air conditioning and relaxing moment. The singing and dancing part is a must to the story simply makes the movie a more rounded entertainment experience for the audience. Movie tickets in India are cheaper than in the U.S. Since the population is poorer, so they want good value and their long movie is worth with their money.

They call it “paisa vasool” which mean item purchased is worth its price. Another difference between Hollywood and Bollywood movies is that religion can play an important role in Bollywood movies. It is important to note that religion is an essential aspect of Indian culture, thus finding more religious tones or ideas or songs in Bollywood films is common; unlike Hollywood. Other than that, nudity or overt sexual scenes which are quite common in Hollywood films are not prevalent in Bollywood films.

2.5 Islamic Discourse Many aspects of Islamic culture are derived from the Quran. Some things that Muslims do almost subconsciously are actually mandated, or encouraged, or allowed by Allah in His holy book the Quran. For instance, women wear the hijab and follow other Islamic dress standards and greeting other Muslims with “As-Salaamu Alay-Kum.” that means “May peace be upon you” (This greeting is standard amongst all Muslims the world over). Since this is a religious greeting, it is regarded as an offensive act for Muslim to reply the greeting (or salam) by non-Muslim just like the way they used to reply to their Muslim brother. Instead of using “Wa’alaikumussalam” (May peace be upon you too), a Muslim should say “Wa’alaika”or “Waalaikum” (And also on you).

Imam al-Bukhari records a Hadith in his Sahih on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “If the people of the book (ahl al-Kitab) greet you, say in reply: Wa ‘alaikum.” (Sahih al-Bukhari).

In 2012, Muslim communities were jolted by the attack on Muslim faith. Our Beloved Prophet (s.a.w) was insulted and degraded by the emergence of a movie entitled “Innocence of Muslim”. The film is regarded as offensive and misleading and it provoked anger in many Muslim throughout the world. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression that Western people hold all this while do not give them freedom to insult nor incite hatred for another race or religion especially through using lowly lies and blasphemous material against Prophet (s.a.w), his family and companions. This kind of attack is such a disrespectful attitude towards Muslim sensitivity.

3.0 Conclusion Ours is an age of globalization. Globalization requires that we pay attention to a related concept; diversity – the recognition and valuing of difference, encompassing such factors as age, gender, race, ethnicity, ability, religion, education, marital status, sexual orientation, and income. Digital technology has helped erase the notion of territorial boundaries between countries, gradually eroding the idea of the term nation as it does so.

People we once considered strangers are now friends and co-workers, creating the need for people who are multiculturalists – persons respectful of and engaged with people from distinctly different cultures. The understanding of diversity and engendering respect for difference can help erase the tensions globalization creates. Effective communication and the ability to understand cultural differences are among skills that are crucially needed nowadays in order for us to move further and succeed in this global village.

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