Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

by Øyvind Dahl (Author)
Monographs XIV, 304 Pages


This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication in the era of globalization. The reader is introduced to essential concepts in the field, different theories and methods of analysing communication, the importance of verbal and nonverbal languages for bringing about mutual understanding and, finally, the ethical challenges that arise.
The volume also has a practical aspect. The author discusses subjects such as handling encounters with people using foreign languages; incorporating different life styles and world views; the use of interpreters; non-familiar body language; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.
Published in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1: Understanding in a Global World
  • Globalization: A word with many meanings
  • Globalization and the nation state
  • Purity, Creole or hybrid?
  • To understand and be understood
  • Understanding, lack of understanding and misunderstanding
  • Golden moments
  • Different categorizations
  • To communicate is to negotiate about meaning
  • Chapter 2: Culture: Something We Have or Something We Do?
  • What is culture?
  • Descriptive concept of culture
  • Essentialist cultural understanding: Culture is something we have
  • Dynamic cultural understanding: Culture is something we do
  • Phenomenological approach
  • Culture as a verb
  • Different labels: Dynamic approach
  • Summing up different understandings of culture
  • Cultural dimensions
  • Cultural frames of reference
  • Chapter 3: Communication is Creating Something Together
  • Communication models
  • The classic model of communication process
  • Meaning and understanding
  • Stereotypes: Putting people into boxes
  • Prejudices: “Frozen stereotypes”
  • Othering
  • The danger of culturism
  • Ethnocentrism, cultural relativism and empathy
  • Meta-communication
  • Content communication and relational communication
  • Symmetry and asymmetry in communication
  • Cross-cultural and intercultural communication
  • Intra-cultural and intercultural communication: Cultural Distance
  • Theory and practice: Models of analysis in communication
  • Chapter 4: Process Analysis: Building Bridges
  • Various forms of intercultural communication
  • Intercultural communication using static cultural approach
  • Contrasts between assumptions and values: An essentialist case
  • Intercultural communication using the dynamic cultural approach
  • Culture Filter model
  • A case illustrating the use of the culture filter model
  • Communication without intention
  • The importance of context
  • High context and low context
  • Chapter 5: Semiotic Analysis: Interpreting Signs
  • Semiotics: The study of signs
  • Codes are systems of meaning
  • Icon, index, symbol and position of the sign
  • Model of semiotic analysis
  • Production of meaning
  • Unlimited semiosis
  • Signification and meaning
  • Metaphor, irony, metonymy and idiom
  • Chapter 6: Hermeneutic Analysis: Understanding
  • Prejudice, pre-judgement and pre-understanding
  • Horizon of understanding and the fusion of horizons
  • The hermeneutic circle: Circle of understanding
  • Three stages of understanding in human encounters
  • Closed and open communication
  • From individual to society
  • Hermeneutics as an analytical tool
  • The many faces of power
  • A case for analysis
  • Chapter 7: Verbal Communication: Language
  • Spoken verbal language
  • Written verbal language
  • Sign language
  • Human language skills
  • Grammatical competence
  • Communicative competence
  • Language and perception of reality
  • Learning languages: A gateway to new universes
  • Words are ambiguous
  • Denotation and connotation
  • Sounds may create difficulties
  • Different intonation gives different meanings
  • Different construction of sentences: Syntax
  • Grammar is different
  • The habits of the mother tongue are transferred
  • Different uses of “yes” and “no”
  • Pragmatics: Language in use
  • Use of etiquette
  • Use of turn-taking
  • Use of silence
  • Use of non-words and listening words
  • Use of humour
  • Understatements and overstatements
  • Use of irony
  • Communication strategies
  • Modes of expression
  • Communicative style
  • Rhetoric: Strategies of persuasion
  • Logical reasoning
  • Emotional arguments
  • Analogical reasoning
  • Translation
  • Formal equivalence: Word-by-word-translation
  • Dynamic equivalence: Content translation
  • Concept translation
  • Interpreting
  • Paralanguage
  • Chapter 8: Non-Verbal Communication: Body Language
  • What is non-verbal communication?
  • Body language
  • Five sign classes
  • We communicate with the body
  • The face
  • The smile
  • Eye contact and gaze
  • Gestures
  • Body movements: Kinesics
  • Posture
  • Touching, body contact, and greeting customs
  • Use of distance and space: Proxemics
  • Other non-verbal signals
  • Appearance
  • Dressing
  • Odour
  • Taste
  • Colours
  • Gift-giving
  • How to use body language
  • Chapter 9: Identity: Who Am I?
  • How do we become who we are?
  • Descriptive cultural identity
  • Dynamic cultural identity
  • Living in different worlds
  • Group identity and multiple identities
  • Identification: Playing our cards
  • Split or whole personality?
  • “Third-culture kids” or “Trans-cultural kids”
  • Being a stranger
  • The U-curve or valley of uncertainty
  • Re-entry or reverse culture shock
  • Adults move, children are moved
  • “We” and “the others”
  • Where are the borders?
  • Minority and majority
  • Chapter 10: Context and Reality: Why Are They Doing This?
  • Cultural frames of reference or contextual factors
  • The sphere of worldview components
  • Functions of the worldview
  • Worldview as religion and philosophy of life
  • Worldview as key to interpretation
  • Sphere of social components
  • Collectivistic and individualistic societies
  • Honour and shame
  • Spheres of communication
  • Sphere of individual components
  • The Johari window model: A glance into yourself
  • Perception: We see through our experience
  • Emotions communicate
  • Sympathy and empathy
  • Understanding time
  • Linear time
  • Cyclical time
  • Event time
  • Chapter 11: To Understand Oneself and Others
  • Understanding using our experience: Interpretative schemes
  • Expectations of each other
  • Sticking your finger into the earth
  • Conflict management
  • Conflicts of interest and negotiations
  • Conflicts of values and mediation
  • Conflicts of relationship
  • Conflicts of power: Ruling techniques
  • Conflicts of culture
  • Ethical demand and ethical challenges
  • The frog and the sea
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 1.1: The comic strip that caused a headache!

Figure 1.2: Technological, economic, political and cultural developments cross borders.

Figure 2.1: Visible cultural forms of expression and invisible cultural content.

Figure 2.2: Lewis’s LMR-triangle.

Figure 3.1: The classic model of communication process.

Figure 3.2: Intended meaning of the sender and understanding of the receiver.

Figure 3.3: Circle of essentialism.

Figure 3.4: From intra-cultural to intercultural communication.

Figure 4.1: Øyvind Dahl’s culture filter model.

Figure 4.2: Who is the mother? The nuclear family and the extended family.

Figure 5.1: The semiotic triangle.

Figure 5.2: Dahl’s semiotic model of analysis.

Figure 5.3: Unlimited semiosis.

Figure 6.1: The hermeneutic circle.

Figure 6.2: Hermeneutic model of understanding when two people meet.

Figure 7.1: Sign language is a verbal language.

Figure 7.2: The linear model.

Figure 7.3: A loop model.

Figure 7.4: Parallel structures model.

Figure 7.5: The spiral model.

Figure 7.6: Translation. From source to target language.

Figure 8.1: The body communicates.

Figure 8.2: Facial expressions seem to be universal.

Figure 8.3: Alternation between gaze and speech.

Figure 8.4: Gestures and their importance in some countries.

Figure 9.1: Identity as concentric circles.

Figure 9.2: What is identity? How do I perceive myself in relation to other people?

Figure 9.3: Different expectations: At home and among friends.

Figure 9.4: The U-curve or U-valley.

Figure 9.5: Relocation process is experienced differently by adults and children.

Figure 10.1: Three important spheres of components in intercultural communication.

Figure 10.2: Yin and yang.

Figure 10.3: Spheres of communication.

Figure 10.4: When spheres intersect.

Figure 10.5: The Johari window model.

Figure 10.6: The Johari window implies different communication styles.

Figure 10.7: What’s not right here?

Figure 10.8: Goose or rabbit?

Figure 10.9: Linear time.

Figure 10.10: Cyclical time.

Figure 10.11: Combination of linear and cyclical time.

Figure 10.12: Event time.

Figure 11.1: “Listening” activates ears, eyes and heart.

Figure 11.2: Self-reinforcing circle.

Figure 11.3: In this case there is negotiation space. A solution is possible!

Figure 11.4: Here there is no negotiation space. The parties are too far apart.

Figure 11.5: Asymmetric departures, yet there is space for negotiation!

Figure 11.6: In this case, the conflict ended in a win-win situation.

Figure 11.7: Mediation helps bring down barriers.

Figure 11.8: Common areas of experience can be expanded through learning.

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This book provides an introduction to intercultural communication and while it is intended for undergraduate students, it is useful for anyone seeking an overview of this rapidly developing field.

The field of intercultural communication may be helpful for studying international, national and domestic relations. But what does “intercultural” mean today? Cultures are constantly changing and cannot be summarized or defined as easily as before. Cultures cannot just be put into boxes, and one of the consequences of globalization is that many previously recognized boundaries have little importance. Great mobility and technical inventions such as the internet have broken down obstacles of distance, and have facilitated connections across the globe at an increasing speed. As a consequence, cultural, technical, economic and political mind-sets influence human encounters throughout the world. Communication does involve crossing borders, but which borders? In recent years, a new direction has developed within the field of intercultural communication called critical intercultural communication research (Holliday, Hyde and Kullman 2010: 57, 244; Nakayama and Halualani 2010; Piller 2011). As a result, researchers now place greater emphasis on the following points:

a) Intercultural communication must be perceived in a critical historical context. It is not a discipline in itself, but other disciplines can shed light on the field: philosophy, psychology, religious studies, linguistics, sociology, social anthropology, information science and other sciences.

b) All communication is in some way intercultural. Communication takes place between different parties who activate their unique intercultural frames of reference either domestically or internationally. Identity is a key word, but identity is dependent on the circumstances and on the interlocutors.

c) The notion of “culture” in terms of national cultures must be critically scrutinized. All nations are influenced by different trends and ← xi | xii → composed of different people, who each relate to different cultural modes of interpretation.

d) Culture cannot be reduced to an essence (core) or to something we have. Culture must be understood to be much more dynamic, as something we do. Through acts of communication, we construct and reconstruct culture.

e) Methodologically, more recent means of analysis have come into play. Examples include semiotics (the study of signs), hermeneutics (interpretation) and discourse analysis (the study of texts and social practices), not merely studying the process of communication.

f) Power is central to the study of communication. It is a major challenge to map where the centres of power are situated in acts of communication.

In this book, I have discussed several of the challenges raised by the study of critical communication research, but I have not “tied myself to the mast”. Many of the points listed above can be discussed using different approaches. My attitude is that we need both the classical descriptive (essentialist) understanding of culture and the more modern dynamic (constructivist) approach.

The book has a European or even North-European point of departure. However, many cases are drawn from the rich international field, and students from all over the world will benefit from the discussions included here. I maintain that the book is an introductory text, and as such, I have included well-known themes within the field like verbal and non-verbal communication, process analysis and the study of world views. Since European societies are increasingly becoming multicultural societies, I have also explored migratory processes, the construction of identity, the understanding of time, conflict management and the use of power in communication. Underlying all these themes is the wish to understand and be understood.

The textbook is written for undergraduate students. It is intended that after studying this book the reader should, among other things:

This book intends to meet these requirements. My aim is to inspire students to adopt habits of self-reflection and engagement when facing the many intercultural challenges that exist today. The book challenges students to see people and contexts, not just in terms of academic and professional needs, but also in relation to their own ways of living. In order to assist students who wish to deepen their study of specific themes, I have included many citations of other works in addition to references to relevant literature in the field. When quoting from sources not written in English, I am responsible for these translations.


XIV, 304
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (September)
Human Encounters intercultural communication cultural studies communication studies communication between cultures
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XIV, 304 pp., 42 coloured ill., 17 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Øyvind Dahl (Author)

Øyvind Dahl is Norwegian but grew up in Madagascar, where he taught at a teacher’s training college for several years. He has worked around international development issues in different countries and is now Professor Emeritus at VID Specialized University in Stavanger, Norway. He helped establish the Centre for Intercultural Communication (SIK) at VID and the Nordic Network for Intercultural Communication (NIC) together with professional partners from other Nordic countries. He has also been a board member of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research in Europe (SIETAR-Europa).


Title: Human Encounters
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319 pages