STUDENT BLOG: That's not what I meant!

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BOOK REPORT:That's Not What I Meant!
By anonymous

Title: That's Not What I Meant!
Author: Deborah Tannen
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Date of Publication: 2011/7/5

An original hardcover edition of this book was published in 1986 by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

<Book Review>

1. Overview

"It's not what we say, but how you say it, that counts." This is an old cliché and also a new concept of Metamessage that a renowned linguist Deborah Tannen introduces to us in this book. Dr. Tannen helps us to gain a fresh perspective in our communication styles. She explains how every one of us has a diverse communication style as a result of coming from different cultures with different expectations. She also provides numerous practical examples which show how it makes or breaks relationships. The purpose of this book is in trying to rescue stranded people in the vast ocean of words, struggling to deal with other people through language, by using linguistic gears.

2. Summary and Author's View

The differences of communication styles that Dr. Tannen studies in this book are wide-ranging. They include individual habitual differences; pacing, pausing, loudness, intonation, and also that of conversational strategies; questioning, complaining, and indirectness. By way of example, I will present two different examples of complaining in order to illuminate the author’s observation. We sometimes complain about something to develop rapport with our co-workers or friends. In this case, a feeling of discomfort is not the main message. We just want to share a common sense of grievance, or simply have a fleeting conversation. Of course, we sometimes complain  to express dissatisfaction or resentment, demanding someone to change the situation. So, if the intention of complaining is misinterpreted, the misunderstanding can end up in the disruption of the relationship.

Dr. Tannen calls this sort of background setting a Frame; A Frame is a form of Metamessage, like a banner above a dialogue balloon to show what we mean. Moreover, the Doctor introduces to us several linguistic approaches to cope with such miscommunications and restore relationships; Reframing (setting a new Frame in the conversation naturally) and Meta-communicating (naming the Frame and making clear your intention).

3. Relation between the Book and My Real Life

In our class the other day, we talked about Japanese society as a high-context society. One student in my class described Japanese people as “skillful”. The talk motivated me to read this book. Now I realize that we are always required to have the skill to detect what types of Frames we are in, while we are communicating in Japanese. Someone lacking in this skill is sometimes called “KY”. And the fact can lead to dismal consequences in Japanese society, even if the person is a small kid in school.

This is because Japanese people prefer indirectness which makes room to adjust the meaning of their remarks depending on other people's responses. (Dr. Tannen adduce an instance of Greek parent-child communication to show this function of indirectness.) The preference for indirectness is attributed to Japanese culture in which people think much of conformity. We can also consider the culture itself; to value conformity a big Frame for all the communications in Japanese. Thus, the one who cannot figure out the Frame would be sometimes alienated socially as the one who is against the Frame.

This book enabled me to observe our communication styles and the ways of framing common in Japanese society ---indirectness, a preserved attitude and ways of showing politeness---with a new pair of eyes. We should bear in mind that they are part of diverse styles and frames in a heterogeneous society. Most Japanese people are, in the word of the author, "Frame Savers".   

4.  Conclusion

Dr. Tannen confesses that the breaking up of her marriage and figuring out the cause of it triggered her interest in linguistics. So, it’s no wonder that this book is often chosen as a wedding gift for a new couple. This book is full of tips for developing good relationships not only with your partner and friends, but also with people in your work place; co-workers, bosses, customers. Besides, I think that this is a very useful and informative book, especially for English learners who are unfamiliar with typical communication styles in English-speaking countries.

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Japanese Translation





先日の授業で、日本社会は*High Context社会であるということが話題になりました。その時あるクラスメートの方が、日本人を"skillful"(熟練した)だと表現されました。そのことが私がこの本を読むきっかけになったのですが、実際に読み終えた今その言葉の意味が分かった気がします。私たちが日本語でコミュニケーションする際に常に求められるスキルというのは、今自分がどういうフレームのもとで会話しているのかを見抜くすべだということです。これができないとKYなどと言われ、日本社会ではしばしば好ましくない状況を招いてしまいます。子供たちでさえ学校で同じような状況におかれています。
この本を読んで、私は日本であたりまえのように使われている、常識的なコミュニケーションスタイルやフレームを改めて捉え直すことができました。日本の社会では一般的な、会話する際のあいまいさや遠慮がちな物言い、また敬意の払い方などは、多くの異なる文化を含む社会の中では、一形態に過ぎないのだということを私達は常に心に留めておく必要があると思います。博士の言葉を借りれば、ほとんどの日本人は、フレームに逆らわない習慣を持っている”Flame Savers”だということになります。



*High context
日本はHigh context cultureの典型例としてよく挙げられる。人々が共通の社会常識や認識を共有し、言葉がなくとも「あうん」の呼吸で通じ合える、そんな均質な文化である。
High Context Low Context文化〜ブログEuropewatchより抜粋〜


Teacher comments:
This was an excellent report.  I enjoyed reading it. I think the topic here is very important to anyone who studies language. Good job!

MIAMI 英会話教室 in 上大岡。生徒募集中! https://sites.google.com/site/mrjohnsenglishclass/home

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