• High- and low-context cultures

    High- and low-context cultures

    • 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.

      Higher-context culture: Afghans, African, Arabic, Brazilian, Chinese, Filipinos, French Canadian, French, Greek, Hawaiian, Hungarian, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Korean, Latin Americans, Nepali, Pakistani, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Southern United States, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, South Slavic, West Slavic.
      Lower-context culture: Australian, Dutch, English Canadian, English, Finnish, German, Israeli, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Switzerland, United States.
      • Hall, Edward, T. Beyond Culture. Anchor Books (December 7, 1976).
      • Samovar, Larry A. and Richard E. Porter. Communication Between Cultures. 5th Ed. Thompson and Wadsworth, 2004.
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    • High- and low-context cultures