Culture and Communication

Student Team: Lawrence, Greg, Michael, Jeanne, and Janee


In this report, we examine some prominent theories of culture and language. All theories in this report deal with this subject in a sense because they all show ways of communication patterns create and reflect the reality of a social group, society, and culture. Through these individual theorists--Edward Hall, Dell Hymes, Basil Bernstein, Frederick Williams, and Everett Rogers--we have a better understanding of the role of communication in a culture.


Everett Rogers: Diffusion of information


Every society changes over time. Some change rapidly; others seem to stay virtually unchanged for generations. But, however slowly, change does occur. Theories on the diffusion of information seek to find out how these changes occur and how they can be made more rapidly. Diffusion of information is defined as Athe process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. (Rogers, 5).

In 1940 Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues conducted a study on voting behaviors. The study was conducted in Elmira, New York, and sought to discover the influence of the media over the public. At the time many people felt that media sources such as news papers and radio had far to much influence. Surprisingly, the study revealed that the media was not as great an influence on voting behavior as was a friend talking to a friend (Littlejohn, 334). Later, Lazarsfeld and his colleague Elihu Katz expounded on this discovery. They found that certain people within every group were opinion leaders. These people had a great amount of influence over other people in the group on one or more relevant issues. Opinion leaders who had influence in only one subject were called monomorphic. Those who had influence in multiple subject areas were called polymorphic (Littlejohn, 334). The major vehicle for the transmission and acceptance of new information was found to be interpersonal communication between these opinion leaders and their peers.

Why was the mass media far less influential than the researchers expected. This information went against the common sense belief of the majority of people in the United States at the time. People had seen the effects leaders like Hitler and Stalin had over their societies and attributed this influence to the mass media. Lazarsfeld identified four variables that interceded between the mass media and the intended audience: exposure, medium(newspaper, television, etc.), content and predispositions (Katz, Lazarsfeld, 21). The exposure of a social group to information may be constrained by technological, political, economic and voluntary factors. For example, in order for a televised message to have an influence over someone, that person must have access to a television. In many poorer countries, such technologies as radio, television and newspapers are not available. Even where the technology is available, some people may not be able to purchase it, thus being constrained by economic factors. Political factors also come into play where governments exercise inordinate control over what information will be distributed. Government control over newspapers, radio and television can be a powerful restrictive force in the diffusion of information. Finally, the will of the individual is a constraining factor. The person must voluntarily expose himself to the information. He may have a television, but he does not have to turn it on. He may hear a message, but listening to and retaining the message is voluntary. In no case does any one person have sole control over the distribution of information. Communication is always a joint occurrence, a mutual process of information sharing between two or more persons. In other words communication always implies relationship. Communication networks consist of interconnected individuals who are linked by patterned flows of information. Such information sharing over time leads the individuals to converge or diverge from each other in their mutual understanding of reality (Rogers, Kincaid, 63).

Because of these constraints, diffusion of information is a slow process. The goal, then , is to find ways to speed up the change as much as possible.


Edward Hall: Proxemics


Edward Hall has been doing studies on the space people have been putting between each other. He feels that communication is a multi-channel affair. He feels that the way space is perceived is defined by the cultures in which the people come from. He talks about communication and nonverbal communication as a way to set up the space around oneself.

John, a neighbor of mine, was from a Middle Eastern country. He would just walk into my apartment when he felt like it without an invitation. John would help himself to a glass of wine and start the radio. He would simply make himself at home. John invaded my space which I was not willing to give up. In John's culture you share everything.

Hall would describe how people in the US would us sight and hearing in developing their space. The Middle Eastern countries would also use smell in developing space.

Hall would define three basic types of space. First is fixed- feature space which consists of unmovable objects such as walls and rooms in a house or an office. The second was semi-fixed features; moveable objects such as furniture. The third is informal space that is an individual's personal territory around his body. This space is carried with you when you move. He uses four distances to identify different types of space. Intimate space is from 0 to 18 inches around a person's body. Personal space is from 18 inches to about four feet. Social distance ranges from four to twelve feet, and public space is over twelve feet away.

Hall felt that when people would engage in conversation they would need eight factors to establish the proper distance. These factors are:

...(1) Posture-sex factor : These would include the sex of the participant and the position in which they may be in. For example, standing sitting or lying (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(2) Sociofugal-sociopetal Axis: The word sociofugal means discouragement of interaction, sociopetal implies encouragement. Axis is the angle of the shoulder relative to the other person. For example, if the speaker is face to face then this is sociopetal. This would encourage interaction where as sociofugal would discourage it, i.e. being back to back (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(3) Kinesthetic Factor: This means the closeness of the individuals and their terms of touchability. Individuals may be in physical contact or within close distance, they may be outside body contact distance, or may be positioned anywhere in between these extremes. This factor also includes the positioning of body parts as well as which parts are touching (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(4) Touching behavior: This is where people would be involved in caressing and holding, feeling, prolonged holding , pressing against, spot touching accidental brushing, or no contact (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(5) Visual code: this category includes the manner of eye contact ranging from direct (eye to eye) to no contact (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(6) Thermal code: This element involves the perceived heat from the other communicator (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(7) Olfactory code: This factor includes the kind of degree of odor in the conversation (Littlejohn, 80-81).

...(8) Voice loudness: The loudness of the speech can affect interpersonal space (Littlejohn, 80-81).

Edward Hall theories of how a person learns to communicate is by the space they have developed around them, and is made up of many variables, such as hearing, sight, and smell. People build walls around themselves and use furniture as a way of making space around them. Hall brings up some valid points that make sense.


Frederick Williams: Poverty Cycle


In dealing with the language of the poverty child, are we dealing with language which is deficient or with language that is different? As the war on poverty has continued in the U.S., it has become highly evident that the boundaries of poverty are often subcultural ones. Individuals in a poverty group can be identified by their common socioeconomic problems, and these in turn are typically associated with an equally common range of sociocultural features - ways of life, education, attitudes, desires, and above all, language and the ways of using it. Much of the attention given to sociocultural aspects of poverty can be seen in the kinds of cause and cures for poverty which are often linked as part of an overall poverty cycle (Williams, 2).

In this cycle, the old and familiar, label of being poor is at the point which we now usually call being economically disadvantaged. Frederick Williams explains that this simple picture is broadened slightly, and a first part of the cycle recognized, when the causes of economic disadvantage are sought in some type of employment disadvantage. Tracking this point in the cycle was one of the important factors of the war on poverty. Just as employment disadvantages underlay economic disadvantages, it was reasoned that educational disadvantages underlay those of employment. When causes for educational disadvantage were explored, speculation led to a kind of development of disadvantage associated with being reared in a home suffering from economic disadvantage. Thus a cycle was fully defined - one which seemed logical in such implications (Williams, 3).

This cycle also represents the point of the deficit - difference controversy. This is where the concept of economic disadvantage was thought to be linked with cultural disadvantage. To explain the concept of economic disadvantage would be to say lack of necessary resources deficient or undeveloped to name a few. The extension of the entire concept must first include the concept of culture or subculture, or even more specific, the people with it which has given it so much cause for concern.

There are two specific questions when analyzing the situation that one must consider. The first being A are we talking about groups of individuals whose backgrounds, attitudes, and general capabilities have failed to give them adequacy for a life of opportunities, or are we talking about minority cultures of a country where the attitudes of the majority have inhibited the participation of the minorities in these opportunities? (Williams, 3).

The first of these questions the definition of a disadvantaged culture, while the other, culture of a disadvantage. As we get more information on the alternatives, and as we face trends or their extremes, we must first understand what they imply about the nature of poverty in the United States. Therefore, we must consider the ways in which they have chosen to fight poverty. Nowhere is this situation more evident than in the contrasts between the deficit and the different positions taken of the poverty child! (Williams, 3).

There are numerous reports which point to shortcomings in the language capabilities of poverty children. Such evidence is gained by contrasting poverty children with those of the middle class. Here is where they get interpretations that move from such contrasts to more general, about the appearance of developmental lags in the language of poverty children. They say it fits quite well into place, that a poor home is an environment which retards a child's overall development, leading to a disadvantage in school. Failure in school leads in turn to lack of employment opportunities, and this sets the stage for economic disadvantage which in turn perpetrates the cycle (Williams, 3).

In attempting to break the poverty cycle, different theorists would turn more to the schools than to the child. Here the argument is that schools should be designed to accept a polycultural input, and to prepare the children for, hopefully, a full participation in a polycultural society. Some assumptions can be made. The culturally different child typically progressed normally; therefore, schools should be able to build upon what they know, rather than starting from scratch. Building off of what they know will avoid cultural depreciation and eventual self-deprecation (or total alienation) now promoted by the schools. Making schools polyculturally oriented will be the first step in the reformation of a now polycultural society with monocultural opportunity (Williams, 9).

Under the assumption of the sociocultural phase of the poverty cycle, usually because persons in poverty could not grasp opportunity if it were given to them, society must help the socioculture as a whole, in attempts to discontinue the entire poverty cycle.

We must understand that a child is reared within a particular family structure. Children are biologically predisposed to develop language and the environment triggers rather than serves as a stage of development. A child learns most and is most impressionable during the first five years of his life. Therefore, a child in poverty is exposed to his environment, and that is what they know, even before entering into the educational system. This has a lot to do with the continuation of the poverty cycle.

A child internalizes some of his organizational and communication characteristics in the speech he acquires. These styles in turn serve to perpetuate those kinds of organizational characteristics that families and the larger society of which the family is a part which society has a responsibility for. All of these factors contribute to Frederick Williams theory of the poverty cycle.


Basil Bernstein: Social Linguistic Theory


The social class is a special interest of Bernstein. He states that the social class system creates different types of language, and that it is also maintained by language. Basil Bernstein's interest in the social class led to his social linguistic theory on elaborated and restricted codes. The theory shows how the structure of language employed in everyday talk reflects and shapes the assumptions of a social group.

The theory on elaborated and restricted codes states that the relationships established in a social group affect the type of speech used by that group. It also states that the structure of the speech used by a group makes things relevant or significant. This occurs because different groups have different priorities. For instance, two children who both speak English might employ very different codes because the nature and organization of their talk is different.

The explanation of two codes that Bernstein's theory centers on are as follows: Elaborated codes provide a wide range of different ways to say something which suggest that they require more thinking. Restricted codes have a narrower range of options. It is easier to predict where and individual is going with it. Restricted codes do not allow speakers to expand or elaborate very much on what they mean. They are appropriate in groups in which there is a strongly shared set of assumptions and little need to elaborate on what is meant. For instance, a young man who spent his entire childhood with the same children, in the same neighborhood, in the same school may have become used to a certain way of speaking around his friends. He may have a way of referring to things in his environment that he and his friends understand, but he cannot use the same outside of his neighborhood, in places like college or his place of employment because it is not appropriate being that the people in his new environment will not understand him (for example, referring to a person a cat or to an interesting object as phat). Restricted codes are oriented toward social colonies. They may take place in the family, peer groups, schools or possibly work, among other places.

Elaborated codes are appropriate in groups where perspectives are not shared. They are oriented to individualized colonies that others might not share. Where the structure of the group is less well defined, and elaborated code is more likely to be created. Some examples where elaborated codes may be used are the first day at a new school; you may not quite have a feel for the individuals around you, so you would speak in elaborated codes. Bernstein's example of a couple who has not yet seen a movie. The couple has to be able to express themselves individually in some detail. They cannot assume that the other couple knows what is going on.

Bernstein states that the members of the middle-class use both types of codes, while the members of the working class are less likely to use elaborated codes. The middle-class is more apt to use restricted codes at home, but elaborated codes in the workplace. Bernstein said for the working class individuals, both the values and the role systems reinforce restricted codes.


Dell Hymes: Functions of communication


There are several variations of definitions taken from a dictionary, the book "Theories of Human communication, written by Stephen W. Littlejohn and quotes or statements made from these. Definitions of the terms, Cultural Anthropologist, which is the study of mankind, their writings, meanings, that deal chiefly with the division into races and their origin, relations and characteristics of the various cultures. Ethnography of Communication is explained as simply the application of ethnographic methods for example: (actions, words, behaviors, settings, topics and/or events; the interpreter attempts to make sense of the forms of the communication that is being employed by the members of the group or culture.

A statement was made that the ethnographer, or interpreter know and use a "shared code", which is required in all forms of messages, which is required as a shared code, and communicators who know and use the code which could be by a channel, setting, message form, topic, and/or event that is created by the transmission of a message. This form does not have to be in writing or typewriting, but can be done communicated is such a way that is a non-verbal action (for example: snake handling, wearing hat or sunglasses backwards on head); All of these forms state something yet no words are used. The originator of this research tradition in anthropologist Dell Hymes, who "suggests formal linguistics is not sufficient by itself to uncover a complete understanding of language; it ignores the highly variable ways in which language is used in everyday communication." (Littlejohn, 5th edition-p 215) This type of action, or event is not a verbal communication but is considered as sending a message-the form would be the actions which explains clearly what and why the setting, topic or event is taking place. No words are necessary to convey the message, just the form that is being used.(Hymes, D.H. p 215)

Donal Carbaugh, another communication ethnographer; stated that there are three types of problems that communication addressed: The first one is to discover the type of "Shared Identity" is it the culture or the behavior in an event or action that is communicated to others; are the actions created by a message form of communication or by action, behavior, settings, topics or event that is understood by others in the vicinity. For example: in a group or cultural community, whether it is African-American, Cheerleaders, Rotarians..., Japanese businessmen (Littlejohn 5th edition: (p.215)

The second problem is how to uncover the shared meanings of public performances as seen in the group: wearing hat backwards, sunglasses at back of hairline; we explain this meanings as seen in a group and a message form of a communication.

The third problem: ways to explore the reactions, contradictions or paradoxes of a group or culture. How to handle through communication or how a culture might treat members as individuals while providing sense of community-even if they are of another culture, religion, or group.

Three questions need to be answered, or interpreted about "Questions of Norm" answers are not easily given, or interpreted to the above behaviors, nor to these questions; however norms usually mean to establish a set of standards and ways of what is right or wrong in behaviors that might impact or affect a commonty or communications patterns. We wonder how these norms are organized, unless it is explained to other people there could be misconceptions about the other's behaviors, actions, how to explain these things so all can understand and act in the same way as set by the majority.

The second is the Questions of form(s): looking at the various types of communication used within the society. What behaviors count as communication, and how are the forms organized-do they have clear meanings of what is expected or are they ambiguous.

The third: Questions of Cultural Codes: codes draw attention to communication or to non communication; rules, standards, meanings of symbols used, as well s behaviors used as communication in the cultural community-for example (ethnic dancing, food, parties, does everyone understand the meanings, the symbols of the food, dancing as a communication process.

There are nine ways as extensions of this field which is comparative ethnography; involves creating categories that apply across cultures; Hymes suggests ways to be used to compare different cultures and solve or resolve any problems brought out by the communication methodology.

First is the way of speaking patterns or communication that are familiar to the group members, do others understand the message being sent in these behaviors, or do the ways to speak, or action of patterns cause confusion to others. Second: the idea of an ideal fluent speaker to speak for the community or culture is a good way to further communication and understanding between groups, and cultures. Third: Speech Community: is the same language used by all in each group or culture, or is the language like a soup pot, each and everyone has his/her way to speak. This is not conducive to be able to communicate unless all understand what is being said to another. Fourth: The Speech situation can be combined with the Third category; is communication considered appropriate within a group or culture-are there terms, words that could bring on anger, or upset a complete country, culture-I thing not-this would not be good communication- nor would it be proper to have non-verbal messages sent. Many may not understand what is being said, or communicated or how the message is being portrayed-by a channel, setting, event, use of the code-everything in life needs to be understood by others. Fifth and Sixth: speech event, can also be combined with 3 and 4, but added would be what and which episodes are considered to be appropriate or communication within an event. Seventh: Speech acts components: what the group considers to be elements of a communicative act: is a drawing that makes people feel is not sociable, or something that contradicts another behaviors, traits, and can cause problems with others; therefore, Eight and Nine: both have suggestions to make: rules o speaking in the community-use guidelines that are appropriate, do not use language that insults or mimics another in the functions of speech in the communication behavior, code, action, message sent through a channel-throw things to have another, spit on someone, curse at another. All are not good behavior nor do these communication attitudes aspire to have a congenial society who enjoys and shares their codes of ethics and different abilities. (p.216)

This set of categories is nothing more than a set of concepts a list by which other cultures, groups are compared; For example: the language of the Apache Indian Nation and the Ilongo tribe, some forms of words can be understood easily, others may not be clear enough forms to be considered as a message form, yet others-i.e. dances, singing, reading poetry to community at large, tells others of their heritage, their history and maintains a series of literary items that can be viewed by many as part of the heritage of the United States and of the early North American Tribes and various peoples settling here.

The earliest man, human drew pictures to pass on to others and teach their culture(s), and happenings: from the earliest man/woman, came many more culture, groups, behaviors, all communicating within some sort of language form, message form (example: African's drumming transmitting messages from far away; a form of communication) they did not use language, but music to send their messages; the Greeks also used music, but spoke through philosophers, and passed on their cultures; the Romans wrote of their many battles, their defeats of other nations, and sent scrolls to others telling of their events-using an event, message form, setting, channel, and the "shared code" that everyone used in later times up to present time.

In summary: these are very important pieces of information regarding this subject of Ethnography of Communication; and passed along through the various channels of communication; for example; behaviors, traits, settings, events, all created by the transmission of the message through communication of one sort or another.



In conclusion we must ask is communication a tool for communicating accurately about the world, or is it the means by which the world itself is determined? As we gain insight from such theorist such as Edward Hall, Dell Hymes, Basil Bernstein, Frederick Williams, and Everett Rogers be begin to understand more fully the ways in which communication plays a role in a culture.



Bernstein, B. (1971). Class codes and control: Theoretical studies toward a sociology of language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Carbaugh, D. (1990). Culture talking about itself: In cultural communications and intercultural contact. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension. New York: Doubleday & Company.

Hymes, D. H. (1974). Foundations in sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. Philadelphia: Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press.

Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P.F. (1955). Personal influence. New York: The Free Press.

Littlejohn, S. W. (1996). Theories of human communication 4th ed. Belmont, Ca.: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Littlejohn, S. W. (1990). Theories of human communication 5th ed. Belmont, Ca.: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Rogers, E.M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations 4th ed. New York: The Free Press.

Rogers, E.M., & Kincaid, D.L. (1981). Communication networks: Toward a new paradigm for research. New York: The Free Press.

Williams, F. (1970). Perspectives on a theme: Language and poverty. Chicago: Markham Publishing Company.