Cultural Codes in Communication Key Concepts

Code: a system of values and rules which names what is significant in the world and expresses the nature of those things it names.

Culture: a socially constructed and historically transmitted pattern of symbols, meanings, premises, and rules.

Cultural code: a code that is socially constructed, historically transmitted, distinct among codes, and socially consequential; a system of values and rules people use to make sense of and judge the actions of themselves and others.

Cultural codes of communication: culturally distinct and more or less systematic ways or standards for producing and evaluating our own and others’ communicative choices.

Speaking and Communication are structured, distinctive, and socially consequential:

  • observe patterns in communication (structure),
  • cultural differences in communication (distinctiveness),
  • ways that people use communication and cultural codes (social uses).

Rule of communication: a prescription for how to act that indicates what conduct is obligated, preferred, or prohibited in certain contexts.

A rule is a prescription. It prescribes what someone should do. This differs from a description, which says what people did or what they typically do. Even though the code I use prescribes that I not ask a loud child behind me in the movie theater to be quiet, sometimes I do just that. The rule specifies what, according to some code, someone should do.

A rule pertains to conduct. Conduct is overt, observable behavior. This differs from what people might privately think or feel. A rule of communication specifies how one should act in a social context-whether, for example, I should hush that child—not how one should feel about the situation.

A rule pertains to a specific situation. For example, it says what kind of person (an adult stranger) should or should not do (speak or not) with another kind of person (child) in a particular setting (a public place) for a particular purpose (disciplining the child).

Key word: a term that is particularly revealing about a culture or a way of life; People have, in their daily speech, turned, twisted, or adapted key words to express something distinctive about their lives, something that can only be known by listening to them and by attending to the subtleties of meaning they express in the term. Dugri is such a word.

Ethnographic definition: interpretation of a word as it is used by the people who speak it, beyond the standard dictionary definition. “Communication” has an ethnographic definition of its own in America.

Code of honor: set of rules or principles governing a community based on a set of rules or ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community (Davidson College honor code)

Social drama: a communicative event in which someone uses a moral rule to challenge (criticize) the conduct of another person.

Account: a verbal statement through which someone tries to explain the reason for his or her conduct.

Excuse: the speaker acknowledges that the behavior is wrong and gives a reason for his or her action

Justification: the speaker acknowledges the behavior but denies that it was wrong.

Story: the telling of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious

Code of dignity: the idea that all persons possess worth as individuals

Cross-cultural communication: communication situations in which the participants use different speech codes


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