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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication


Øyvind Dahl

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.

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Chapter 5: Semiotic Analysis: Interpreting Signs


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Semiotic Analysis: Interpreting Signs

Our environment is filled with signs. When we dress in the morning, we choose clothes that signal who we are and who we want to be that day. Looking out we see the sun, clouds and rain; and a glance at the thermometer will give us an indication of what kind of weather we will have. The news on the radio is sounds and words, signs that we decode using our cultural assumptions. The morning newspaper is full of texts and images. Chat with people consists of sounds that we perceive as words and phrases that we interpret and understand or misunderstand.

We surround ourselves with symbols. Once you turn on your smart phone or computer, you encounter icons that convey widgets and applications that we use. The streets are full of texts, sounds, images and advertisements that tout what can be purchased. Traffic lights, symbols, such as signs on WC doors or on the airport wall give us information. Company logos or organizational symbols such as the Red Cross and the cross of churches indicate different identities. We are informed by figures in the lift, symbols for “emergency exit”, road signs and other guiding signs. Uniforms such as a cassock, a national costume, jeans and swimsuits say something about the setting. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, everything that can be captured by our human senses, act as signs.

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