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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Oyvind Dahl

This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication. 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 bodylanguage; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.

Published as a general textbook in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, also translated to Russian and French, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding

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CHAPTER 6 Hermeneutic Analysis: Understanding


A man entered the lounge on a ferry at full speed and accidentally met a pregnant woman sitting on a bench who had a somewhat distant attitude. The following conversation took place:

he: “How long will it take?”

she: “Two weeks.”

he: “What? Does the ferry take two weeks?”

The case shows how we interpret statements according to our own mood. We see the world through our own glasses. Our interpretation will depend on our horizon of understanding, as the German philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer said.

Hermeneutics was originally a doctrine relating to the interpretation of texts. Eventually, the term was extended to include understanding within human sciences and how we should proceed to achieve understanding. We say that we understand something when through interpretation we achieve a satisfactory explanation of different phenomena, texts or processes. Also our mood and mental state help us interpret what is said. The term hermeneutics comes from Greek mythology, as Hermes was not only messenger of the gods but also the one who expressed, explained and interpreted the message of the gods so that the recipient could understand them.

Here I will introduce a model of analysis based on Gadamer’s hermeneutics, further developed by the Danish researcher Marita Svane in a study of intercultural communication. We will first describe what happens at the individual level and then see the implications when different individuals meet and communicate with each other. Thereafter we will...

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