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High-context culture and the contrasting low-context culture relate to a culture's tendency to use high-context messages over low-context messages in routine communication. They are concepts presented by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture.
This choice between speaking styles indicates whether a culture will cater to in-groups, an in-group being a group that has similar experiences and expectations, from which inferences are drawn.
In a higher-context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Words and word choice become very important in higher-context communication, since a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group (but less effectively outside that group), while in a low-context culture, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.
A cultural context does not rank as "high" or "low" in an absolute sense because each message can be presented on a continuum from high to low. Likewise, a culture (French Canadian) may be of a higher context than one (English Canadian) but lower context than another (Spanish or French). Likewise, a stereotypical individual from Texas (a higher-context culture) may communicate more with a few words or use of a prolonged silence, than a stereotypical New Yorker who is being very explicit, although both being part of a culture which is lower context overall. Typically a high-context culture will be relational, collectivist, intuitive, and contemplative. They place a high value on interpersonal relationships and group members are a very close-knit community.
In one article, one sociologist from Japan and two from Finland argued that Japan and Finland are high-context cultures, although both, especially Finland, are becoming lower-context with the increased cultural influence of Western nations. The authors also described India as a relatively low-context culture, arguing that Indians' communication style, while observant of hierarchical differences as is standard for higher-context societies, is much more explicit and verbose than those of East Asians.
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