Sociolinguistics What does language say about culture?

Sociolinguistics: Communication and communication problems in couples of different cultural origins

Contents overview

1. Introduction
1.1 Aim and structure
1.2 Explanation of the terms
1.2.1 Sociolinguistics
1.2.2 Language and semiotics
1.2.3 Communication Intercultural communication
1.2.4 Gender research

2. Women's language - men's language
2.1 What is women's language, what is men's language?
2.2 Women's and men's language today
2.3 Communication problems resulting from the language of women and men
2.4 Communication in a community

3. Intercultural community
3.1 What is an intercultural community?
3.2 Qualitative investigation of communication behavior and communication problems in couples of different cultural origins
3.2.1 Interview family 1 - analysis
3.2.2 Interview family 2 - analysis
3.2.3 Evaluation of the family 3 questionnaire

4. Summary and conclusion

5. Appendix
5.1 Bibliography
5.2 Internet addresses
5.3 Articles from online newspapers / magazines

1. Introduction

1.1 Aim and structure

"Men are more concerned with conveying information - for women, the relationship with their interlocutor is more important"[1]. Such and similar statements characterize the so-called women's and men's language today. This book is about these "languages" and they form the basis for the investigation and understanding of communication and communication problems in couples who live in an intercultural community. The women's and men's languages ​​are not to be understood as separate languages ​​that only women or only men speak, but rather the two terms describe “how women and men talk differently when they communicate together, how they behave differently "[2]. This means that men and women understand each other, but that their different ways of communicating are often the cause of communicative or linguistic misunderstandings.[3] In this book I will describe the communication behavior of and between men and women. I will also explain which communication problems can arise, especially in living communities.

When examining gender languages, sociolinguistics also play a major role. Because in sociolinguistics language is examined in terms of its social, cultural, societal and political function.[4] The individual factors also depend on one another and complement one another. In addition to the “gender languages”, I would also like to shed light on the cultural aspect from the area of ​​sociolinguistics, as it plays an important and influential role in an intercultural community. In this context, intercultural communication is also discussed. The following questions are to be examined in this book:

- What is women's language, what is men's language?
- What does intercultural communication look like?
- To what extent does cultural origin influence communication between men and women?
- To what extent does the cultural origin play a role in a living community, or to what extent does it influence the lifestyle of the couples?
- To what extent is communication between men and women in such a community enriched / made more difficult by the different cultures and languages?
- What role does women's and men's language play in an intercultural community?

As a supporting function for the investigation and answering of these questions and as examples from practice, qualitative interviews with or questionnaires of couples in an intercultural community will serve (couple 1: Ecuadorian-German, couple 2: Portuguese-German, couple 3: costa-rican-german). The statements and findings of the interviews are analyzed. The analysis will conclude with a summary and a conclusion of the evaluated results from the interviews and the previously developed material.

1.2 Explanation of the terms ...

The title of the present book focuses particularly on the terms “communication”, “communication problems” and “cultural background” in relation to couples, that is, to a community. They form the core of this investigation. In order to be able to explain these terms and to clarify their meaning and relevance in the context of this book, however, it is necessary to go further: The definition of sociolinguistics, semiotics and gender research should make it clear in which areas this book can be classified.

1.2.1 Sociolinguistics

Linguistics deals with societal and social factors that influence language and the use of language, as well as with communication and communication problems that are related to society Sociolinguistics.[5] Since these aspects are also the basis of the research for this book, they should be classified in sociolinguistics at this point.

The term sociolinguistics is made up of "socio-" and "linguistics". The prefix "socio" comes from Latin: socius stands for "(combat) companion, participant, who is associated with a society"[6]. This gave rise to the terms “social” and “sociology”, among other things. The following two definitions of the terms "social" and "sociology" come from Herder's foreign dictionary from 1969:


Concerning the general public, relating to human beings as social beings; Equalizing tensions between social classes; promoting the economically weak and dependent; non-profit, humanly helpful.


"Social doctrine, doctrine of the meaning and forms of human coexistence", whereby the Greek originates logos for "-logie" among other things "teaching, customer"[7] means.

In contrast, the term linguistics stands for the science of human language. It is often equated with the term linguistics. Like the Latin translation of lingua "tongue, speech, language"[8] suggests, linguistics is about the languages ​​themselves and about the "systematic comparison of languages"[9].

If “socio” and “linguistics” are now combined, this means for the definition of “sociolinguistics” that it deals with language from the sociological point of view, examining lingual interaction and variation in society.[10] In this context, “social society” is of course a broad term that encompasses many things: upper / lower classes, occupational groups, people with or without a migration background, educated / uneducated people and so on. In this book I want to focus on the sole aspect of gender as a “social group”, that is, men and women. They differ not only in biological factors and external appearance, but also in their behavior, which is reflected, among other things, in language. This means that the two different genders are also very interesting from a purely linguistic point of view. Chapter two deals with the relationship between language and gender. First, the term language and what belongs to language should be explained.

1.2.2 Language and semiotics

“Semiotics is the science of the sign processes in nature and culture. Signs convey information in time and space. Without them, cognition, communication and cultural meanings would not be possible "[11], writes the German Society for Semiotics. This definition makes the relevance of semiotics clear for the present study: It is about language, culture, information and communication. In order to understand the connections, a brief overview of the field of semiotics should be given.

Before answering the question of what a sign is, it should first be explained what language is, because "language is a system of signs"[12] and builds on these symbols:

The ability to speak a language is innate because it is "genetically anchored"[13]. As homo loquens ("the speaking animal"[14]) humans differ considerably from the living beings in their environment. Because even if the "animal language" is often viewed as an independent language, no language can be compared with that of humans.[15] Of course there are people who cannot speak for various reasons, but these causes cannot be traced back to the suspicion that language is not a “basic human being”.[16] but to other circumstances that cause silence.[17]

Even if a person is born with the tools to speak a language, this does not mean that they can speak a language from birth. Everyone has to learn it as a child. Babies make sounds that have no meaning at first, but as others react to these sounds, they are assigned a specific meaning. The babies “understand” that certain sounds can evoke certain reactions. As they grow up, they learn in social contact what "expressions effect and mean"[18] can. This happens when the child "memorises and tries to imitate speech utterances of his surroundings"[19]. It begins to understand that certain sounds have certain meanings. In addition to verbal sounds, it also records visual signs so that it can associate certain things with certain words. Through social contact, it then learns to form whole sentences. This is also done by imitation, since it has not learned the fixed grammar of a language.[20] But this process is in turn linked to the biological prerequisites for it: Since it is later able to form sentences that it has never heard before and which it consequently cannot imitate, it must “have certain brain structures that enable them to develop language rules themselves and apply them to their growing vocabulary "[21]. This theory comes from the American linguist Avram Noam Chomsky and is known as universal grammar.[22]

Since a person always discovers new things in the course of his life that he does not yet know or of which he has not yet heard of, learning a language is an ongoing process that never ends. Everyone gains experience and knowledge. These are then reflected in his utterances, in his language. This consequently means that man interprets his environment and reality through language and, conversely, reality and environment make up his language: "As much and which language one speaks, so much and such thing, world or nature is revealed to him"[23]. This would explain, on the one hand, why a person's language is always individual (see also chapter 1.2.3 “Communication”) if his knowledge and experiences never exactly match the knowledge and experiences of a fellow human being and, on the other hand, it would explain why the many are Languages ​​on this earth differ not only through their properties, such as pronunciation, grammar, characters, etc., but also through different views, ways of thinking, and so on. These differences also make up a culture, which in turn explains that no two cultures are the same (see also section "Intercultural communication"):

Language is the key to community and a prerequisite for intercultural understanding, because it can also be used to tap into the unknown. Language is the most essential good of a culture, which is conveyed to a child and which serves as a gateway to all other cultural areas. Language is the cornerstone of any civil society.[24]

Despite his “individual” language, people are ready to get to know new things, acquire new languages ​​and acquire new and different ways of thinking. People also do this through their social contacts. He learns from other people. For this reason, communication between two people is often referred to as an exchange of experience.[25] The prerequisite for this is that the sender and recipient of a message have "the same character set for information transmission"[26] to use.

But what is a sign? This is what semiotics is about. There are two views of what a sign is: the indexical and the communicative Conception. The philosopher, mathematician and logician Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), who strongly influenced semiotics in his day, divided the characters into three groups: Indexes for characters that of something to be evoked, icon for images and symbols for characters with conventional meanings, such as the words of a language. The indexical view relates, as the name already suggests, to the indexes, i.e. to the characters that of something to be evoked. For example, certain symptoms are signs of certain illnesses.

According to the communicative view, which was shaped by the church father Augustine, signs are signs that For stand something. The communicative signs can also be divided into two types: into linguistic and ostensiven Character. The former stand for what said becomes. They are the signs that “have almost always been found, A.H.], that we use to convey something to one another say[27]. In contrast, the ostensive signs stand for what shown becomes. People do this, for example, through pictures, diagrams, maps, symbols, and so on. The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) was particularly concerned with the communicative view.

If a character is examined more closely, it becomes clear that it consists of several small "building blocks"[28] is composed: from the morphemes. Morphemes are the "smallest meaningful units"[29] of a word. The sign is made up of them, and it is through them that it gains in importance. But semiologically, despite these morphemes, the words are the smallest meaningful units in the entire language system, for example a sentence consists of several characters, a text consists of several sentences. The smallest meaningful unit always remains the word. According to this view, the words are the signs of verbal language. They are the most important “tool” humans use to communicate.[30] But how exactly does communication between people work?

1.2.3 Communication

In Herder's Foreign Dictionary from 1969, communication is defined as “a person's sympathetic, active openness to fellow human beings or being dependent on dealing with others”. The definition has not changed since 1969, because people have always communicated with each other and will continue to do so, as part of the "elementary necessity of human existence and [as] an important social bonding agent"[31], communicate with each other. Through communication, people can communicate, express their needs and exchange ideas with other people. According to Schubert / Klein, a distinction is made between interpersonal communication (between people), mass communication (e.g. through modern media) and group communication (e.g. discussion groups, political groups, etc.). Communication does not only take place through one verbal Exchange of words instead, but also through facial expressions, physical movements, gestures and other means. The so-called "body language", or the nonverbal Communication should not be interpreted independently of the linguistic utterances, but should be seen as part of the overall communication situation. Because if it is interpreted separately, this can lead to misunderstandings, as it is perceived very subjectively and interpreted differently by different people. For example, one person may perceive the other's gestures as pleasant and another may find them annoying, and may even feel personally attacked. The entire interplay of verbal messages and body language in a communication should therefore be taken into account in order to increase the chance that the participants in the conversation will understand each other correctly.[32] Nevertheless, communication in exceptional situations can also take place exclusively with the help of non-verbal means. An example of communication without words is sign language, whose practitioners do not communicate verbally, but through their own "language" with the help of, for example, hands and facial expressions.[33]

So communication takes place in different ways. Despite the wide variety of possibilities, the most common means that humans “use” to communicate with other people is language. Each language is individual. Because in addition to the official language, i.e. the official language of a state, which shapes a person and makes them part of a nationality, there are a number of factors that influence a person's language and make it so individual: culture, dialect, society / social class, Education, job and personal influences. And that certainly does not include all of the factors. But it is precisely these factors that ensure that each person communicates in his or her own way, that is, uses a certain vocabulary, uses certain grammatical structures, et cetera. But the pitch of the voice, speaking speed and tone of voice also play a role. They fall under the concept of paraverbal Communication.[34] The fact that people have an individual language does not mean that people do not understand each other because of this, because understanding what the other is saying and making yourself understandable are two different factors. After all, people are aware of their "intersubjectivity"[35] deliberately. Communication is consequently referred to as "understanding in view of structural experience inequality"[36] understood. Against this background, participants in the conversation try to communicate their experiences and to mutually align them in order to enable a mutual understanding of their messages: "If people want to be understood, then they have to communicate their inner experiences to the other through external actions, primarily through speech acts"[37]. The person then tries to "compensate for the inner experiences of fellow human beings"[38]. If this succeeds, communication works. If this does not succeed, it is often due to the fact that the discussion participants could not adequately “translate” their internal experiences into external actions or did not find the right signs to do so (see chapter 1.2.2 “Semiotics”). Communication problems and misunderstandings then arise in communication.[39]

This leads to so-called communication problems and thus to another central point of this book. The communication problems between the sexes are particularly interesting. It can be observed that, despite their individual language, certain groups often use the same or a similar language and thus have similarities. And even if there are a number of groups that can be categorized, for example because they use the same vocabulary, the most relevant and certainly the largest group for categorizing language usage is the gender group. Because it divides people into two categories: men and women. Other groups, such as work, leisure time, or communication in a community that is also relevant for this study, are influenced by the categorization of men / women, because "Men and women are not only different, they speak and hear differently"[40]. The fact that women and men speak differently and behave differently is due to gender-exclusive and gender-preferential languages. The former describe differences in the use of grammatical structures, syntax, morphology and phonology and the latter describe differences in the use of stylistic variations.[41] These and similar aspects of women's and men's language are discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. Intercultural communication

In the previous chapter it was explained on what basis and under what framework conditions interpersonal communication takes place. The aim now is to describe how communication changes if the interlocutors do not have the same cultural background or do not speak the same language. What problems arise? In order to explain the term intercultural communication, we should first explain what “culture” means in this context. Hans Jürgen Heringer described "culture" in his introduction to "intercultural communication"[42] as follows:

A culture is a way of life. Culture is a special kind of object. Like language, it is a human institution based on shared knowledge. Culture has arisen, it has come about through common human action. Not that it was wanted. Rather, it is a product of the Invisible Hand. It is a potential for common evocative action. But the potential only shows in performance, in execution. And it came about through performance.[43]

Culture therefore arises through those who live it and through whom it is then defined: "culture [is constructed, A.H.] with the specific - and different - ways of life of different national and ethnic groups"[44]. In Piller's version, “Different” refers to the many different cultures that exist on this earth. The fact that cultures are different is due to a whole range of factors that influence a culture: national character, worldview, time experience, spatial experience, thinking, value orientation, clothing, food, social relationships, language and communication, behavioral patterns, work, religion, institutions and the legal system and many more factors.[45] “Groups” refers to the people who make up a particular culture. They know roughly within their community how and with what intensity the factors mentioned are represented in their culture (Norbert Schröer[46] speaks in this context of "relevance systems"). This leads to the fact that every cultural community through certain Similarities distinguishes itself from the other communities. According to Schröer, these similarities are also reflected in the language spoken in the culture, which explains why communication within a culture usually works better than communication between different cultures.[47] The reason for this is that the values ​​that people are taught in their culture influence their thinking.[48] Thus the conclusion could be drawn that culture influences language and vice versa.[49] But the relationship between language and culture should be viewed critically:

According to Piller, the relationship between language and culture is relative: "that means that there is not one single type of relationship that holds for all the languages ​​of the word"[50]. She explains this statement using the example of the English language: if a certain language provided information about a certain culture and vice versa, this would mean that all people who, for example, have English as their mother tongue would nevertheless understand each other and communicate in the same way and Communicate and express it wisely, basically sharing the same culture: For example, Americans, British, Africans, Australians and New Zealanders would not have any cultural communication problems because they speak the same language. But this is not the case. They may speak "the same" language, as it has historically developed that way (for example, partly through colonization)[51], but since culture is a "dynamic process" that is constantly changing and is "complex",[52] In the course of history, the language has adapted and changed to the given circumstances in every culture that speaks this language. Under this aspect, Piller speaks of various "Englishes"[53]. This term was first used by the writer and sociolinguist David Crystal.[54] Because it may be the same language in the true sense of the word, but not the same "kinds of Englishes"[55]. Each “English” represents its very own culture and comes into its own in very different ways: Each culture expresses itself differently with the help of the language, differs through different accents and so on.

This means that, on the one hand, culture influences the language as described and is reflected in it ("Culture is in language, and language is loaded with culture"[56]), on the other hand, however, that the context cannot be generalized so that a language stands for a certain culture and vice versa, as was made clear by the example of the "Englishes". Because of this, the relationship between language and culture is relative.

But if the cultures are now differentiated with their respective languages ​​and each is viewed as unique in itself, this leads to another aspect that plays a major role in intercultural communication: the image that people make of a certain culture and what they do introduces himself under her. Stereotypes arise. Stereotypes "are commonly seen in generalized opinions about other nationalities (...)"[57]. Through stereotyping, people get an idea of ​​other cultures and other countries in order to be able to classify them (for example, the Germans are viewed by their neighboring states as well organized, accurate and slightly pedantic; in addition, the Germans are considered to be skilled in their craft, they are often in Lederhosen shown and so on ...)[58]. Without stereotyping, people would be unable to imagine what exists beyond “their world”. This means that stereotyping is a "fundamental perception and categorization process"[59] with the help of which people explain and imagine the world to a certain extent. Stereotypes come very close to the concept of prejudice. The prejudice itself is of course very negative, since it is a product of "hearsay and exaggerated generalization"[60] is interpreted. But stereotypes are indispensable for intercultural communication, because only through them can speakers from different cultures get involved. You need certain expectations in order to prepare and adjust, as other "reliable clues for an orientation are still missing"[61]. And orientation is essential for a communication situation. Despite everything, the interviewees should know that stereotypes are only generalizations and clues and do not necessarily apply to every single person in a particular culture. You should also be careful with what to expect from the start:

We need to understand stereotypes for what they are - interested generalizations - in order to engage with people from different backgrounds in meaningful way.[62]

It is important to get to know the other person and accept that certain expectations will be confirmed and / or not fulfilled during this process. Even with related cultures, interpretation patterns (how is what is said / interpreted) and relevance systems (which factors / values ​​are of particular importance for a particular community) do not always correspond to expectations.[63] As a rule, however, the interviewees try to meet the requirements of an intercultural communication situation, because they are aware that the existing knowledge between the interviewees is not necessarily congruent.[64] An attempt is made to minimize the differences perceived from the elements of the situation and to adjust knowledge in order to create a common basis on which the participants in the conversation can communicate. This means that your own interpretation pattern must also be revised.[65] Because a common basis is important so that communication can take place at all. It is not even so important to understand exactly what the other is saying, rather it is about "establishing a practical consensus, about understanding, considering equality of experience"[66].

But even if the discussion participants try to find a common consensus, this will not always succeed, since not all differences are obvious and are not perceived by the participants. The linguistic aspect in particular can often make such a conversation situation even more difficult: If the conversation participants speak different languages, this usually means for at least one of the conversation participants that they have to communicate in a different language. Foreign language competence can vary among the participants depending on the level of knowledge, occupation, interests, practice and so on and can lead to communication problems. Consequences that become noticeable in communication can include "irritation, partial disorientation and inhibition to act"[67] be. In such situations, many people hold on to their familiar interpretation patterns and ideas, because they often do not recognize or want to adopt the different point of view. That's human. At such a point it is important for the further course of the conversation for the participants to explain what they mean, to go further, to try to make themselves understood in a different way or to address the problem directly and address it. If this does not succeed, communication has failed or has stagnated.[68]

The above section makes it clear how important it is for intercultural communication to "build up interculturally framed knowledge and interpretation similarities"[69], especially when linguistic communication problems play a role. In migration processes, it might be even more important new cultural "orientation framework"[70] to create so that no one in a multicultural community has to give up their culture in favor of another. However, both in a "simple" intercultural conversation situation and in a multicultural community, it is assumed that you are cooperative and ready to accept other interpretive patterns and systems of relevance and to open yourself to them. If a conversation partner does not open up to the differences that will arise in the course of a conversation and does not try to accept other positions, views, expressions, etc., he will be called Ethnocentrist denotes: Ethnocentrists put their ideas of "values ​​[n] (e.g. religion) and the peculiarities (e.g. skin color) of their own ethnic group (ethnic group) over the other peoples (...) or [take them, A.H.] as a basis for evaluation"[71]. It is obvious that this attitude cannot lead to a successful conversation, since, according to Heringer, an intercultural communication situation can only be successful if

- attention is paid to one's own behavior and the behavior of the other person,
- it is avoided to judge the other too quickly,
- the participants in the conversation sensitize themselves to what the other wants to say or try to understand why the other thinks or expresses himself in this way,
- Intercultural communication is not seen as a struggle from which a culture with its views and values ​​emerges as the “winner” because it is the only “true” one and is superior to the other culture, but is perceived as a kind of “negotiation of meaning” that opens the view to other ways of thinking and expressing and other perceptions,
- the participants in the conversation "remain true to themselves",
- The participants in the discussion are aware that "differences in status" and "cultural and social factors" are part of intercultural communication and that stereotypes and prejudices are part of the human imagination, which in a certain way "prepare the participants for the other", but not as standards may be understood, which must inevitably apply.[72]


[1] Oppermann / Weber (1997: 10)

[2] Trömel-Plötz (2007: 35)

[3] See Oppermann / Weber (1997: 13)

[4] See Norbert, Dittmar. 1996. Sociolinguistics, Heidelberg: Groos.

[5] See (07.04.2012)

[6] Veith (2005: 1)

[7] Ibid. (2005: 1)

[8] Ibid. (2005: 1)

[9] Herder's Foreign Dictionary 1969

[10] See Veith (2005: 3)

[11] (April 8, 2012)



[13] (April 9, 2012)

[14] Heringer (2007: 110)

[15] See ibid. (2007: 110)

[16] Ibid. (2007: 110)

[17] For example, silence can be traced back to a congenital genetic defect, but can also occur in the course of life due to psychological or physiological causes (see (09.04.2012))

[18] (April 9, 2012)

[19] Ibid.

[20] See Heringer (2007: 112-113)

[21] (April 21, 2012)

[22] see ibid.

[23] Heringer quotes Sternberger 1957 (ibid. 2007: 111)



[25] See Heringer (2007: 9-26)

[26] Heringer quotes Umstätter (Heringer 2007: 12)

[27] Kjorup (2009: 8)

[28] Ibid. (2009: 14)

[29] Ibid. (2009: 14)

[30] The information in the last three sections on semiotics all come from the book "Semiotics" by Soren Kjorup (cf. 2009: 7-14)

[31] Schubert, Klaus / Klein, Martina. 2006. The Political Lexicon, 4th current edition Bonn: Dietz.

[32] See Oppermann / Weber (1997: 97-98)

[33] See (10.03.12)

[34] See (March 12, 2012)

[35] see Schröer (2009: 35); Each person has had different experiences in his life, which Schröer summarizes under the term “intersubjectivity”, which in turn makes up part of the individual language.

[36] Ibid. (2009: 77)

[37] Ibid. (2009: 36)

[38] Ibid. (2009: 36)

[39] See ibid. (2009: 36-38)

[40] Oppermann / Weber (1997: 10)

[41] See Höppner (2002: 16); Höppner refers to Samel, I. (1995: 21f.)

[42] 2007. 2nd revised edition Tübingen: Francke.

[43] Ibid. (2007: 107)

[44] Piller, Ingrid (2011: 16)

[45] See Heringer (2007: 143)

[46] 2009. Intercultural Communication. Food: Oldib.

[47] "Intra- and intercultural communication"; see Schröer (2009: 77)

[48] The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that “our language determines our worldview and our thinking, that the world is not somehow objectively given” (Heringer 2007: 209).

[49] See Heringer (2007: 208/9)

[50] Piller (2011: 47)

[51] See (March 30, 2012)

[52] See Heringer (2007: 158)

[53] Piller (2011: 47)

[54] See (April 21, 2012)

[55] Ibid. (2011: 47)

[56] Heringer quoted from Micheal Agar (2007: 105)

[57] Ibid. (2007: 198)

[58] See (March 30, 2012)

[59] Heringer (2007: 198)

[60] Ibid. (2007: 199)

[61] Schröer (2009: 80)

[62] Piller (2011: 73)

[63] The terms “interpretation patterns” and “relevance systems” (see also page 13) come from Norbert Schröer's book “Intercultural communication“(See bibliography).

[64] See Schröer (2009: 78)

[65] See ibid. (2009: 76)

[66] Ibid. (2009: 77)

[67] Ibid. (2007: 78)

[68] See ibid. (2007: 79-81)

[69] Ibid. (2007: 81)

[70] Ibid. (2007: 80)

[71] Schubert / Klein. 2006. The Political Lexicon, 4th current edition Bonn: Dietz.

[72] Compare this section with Heringer (2007: 235)

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