April 15th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; crosscultural communication; Foreigner series; part four...

dsgood commented:

"Problem: Atevi brains are wired differently. There are emotions they don't feel, and ones which they feel but humans don't."

But that, you perceive, is the point. At least, that's how it seems to me.

Right here on this Earth we have cultural groups that feel emotions other cultural groups don't feel. Whether that's because their brains are "wired differently" -- whether it's nature or nurture or both, and how much of each -- is a matter of fierce scientific controversy, but there's no question about the differing emotions.

Group A feels disgust and repulsion toward the elderly, and perhaps especially toward elderly women. Group B feels astonishment that Group A could have that emotional reaction and feels only tenderness and admiration toward the elderly of all genders.

Group C feels anger toward people whose skin is a different color than Group C's skin and who nonetheless want to be considered equal to the people in Group C. Group D feels anger and contempt toward women who want to be considered equal to men. Group E feels contempt for both the members of Group C and Group D, perceiving them as prejudiced and intolerant and ignorant. Groups C and D feel outrage and contempt toward the members of Group E, perceiving them as irrational and unnatural.

Group F feels disgust and repulsion toward people who enjoy going out and hunting down other animals and killing them. Group G feels contempt for the people in Group F who are perfectly willing to eat animals killed by other people. Group H feels outrage toward all people who eat animals and who seem to be blithely unaware of the environmental consequences of eating animals. Group I feels gratitude and reverence for a deity who has provided human beings with other animals to eat.

Group J feels serene confidence that humankind will always find ways to solve the problems that go with apparent shortages of resources on this planet. Group K feels terrified in the face of the food riots that are already taking place on Earth and the water wars that are expected to begin very soon.

Group L feels disgust and repulsion toward the sexual behaviors of Groups M and N. Group O feels only bewilderment at the emotions of Group L in this regard.


This list could be extended almost indefinitely, as could the list of communication breakdowns and misunderstandings that result, on this Earth, from the differences. And yet science fiction media commonly show Terrans communicating successfully with extraterrestrials with little or no difficulty. Cherryh's Foreigner series is exceptional for its constant and detailed focus on how hard it would almost certainly be to achieve even moderately adequate crosscultural communication when one of the cultures is Terran and the other is not.

Which might mean that a discussion of that problem -- the problem we already have, squared, or perhaps cubed -- would lead us toward some useful information about improving crosscultural communication among humankind. Maybe.