Saturday, February 5, 2011 Translation questions.

One fundamental concern in a great deal of cross and intercultural research is the issue of translation, and this problem is exacerbated when dealing with issues of emotion which have a tendency to be more subjective (Pavlenko, 2005; Wierzbicka, 1999). Consequently, that issues of translation arose in determining the accuracy of the cross-cultural interpretations is unsurprising. At the most basic level is that cluster of words and phrases that “just don’t translate” to the target language. In addition, participants used a number of notions that have multiple correlates in the other language, and ultimately, the words do matter. Chulchulmaeda, danghok, heodoongdaeda, danghwang (confusion), noonchi, kangok, hogam (good feeling), brazenfacedness (need Korean word), chung (affection), are examples of emotion concepts appearing in this study from the Koreans participants for which the bi-cultural translator, a Korean native who has lived in the United States for more than 15 years while completing a Masters and PhD in counseling psychology and later as a practicing therapist, had difficulty finding satisfactory direct translations.

My intention here is not to suggest a strong version of linguistic relativism to imply that the Western participants cannot perceive or understand the notion presented by the Koreans and codified in the Korean language, rather something more akin to what Kay and Kempton (1984) call “limited linguistic relativity and determinism” (p. 78). Indeed, that the Koreans have a single word or “catch phrase” to represent an emotional state, while the North Americans did not, does not imply at all that the non-native participants did not describe something close to the emotional state the Koreans did. For example, the Koreans considered their concept of noonchi to be both clearly represented in the first video clip and something uniquely Korean. Participant S explained, “I thought what the principal did was very Korean. He showed Korean work place culture where noonchi happens a lot where there is a manager.” Yet at least one North American participants recognized something comparable to noonchi. Participant H says of Teacher Kim, “he’s kind of trying to minimize the damage” and later, “like he was analyzing the situation.”

However, such analogues were not always seen in this study. Indeed, of the XX instances in which the Koreans used nine terms that “just don’t translate” well, only XX showed clear attempts to express something akin to the Korean term by the non-native participants. Thus, this study provides some support for the weak version of the linguistic relativity that when a culture/language does have a succinct word or phrase for a particular emotion, it does raise the presence of that notion. Simply put, having a word for something makes it easier to talk about that thing, which in turn increases the likelihood that people will talk about the notion, and ultimately to raise the level of that notion in the consciousness of the society. Researchers’ gut reactions.

While the participants’ judgments regarding the presence or absence of basic emotions is certainly revealing, one of the fundamental realities of intercultural communication is that, in very practical ways, a statistical analysis of interpretation accuracy of another culture is probably not sufficient to judge intercultural acuity. Even intra-culturally, a wide range of subjective terms and phrases is used to describe one’s sensitivity to other’s intentions (or lack of sensitivity), In America, we often say someone “is savvy,” someone “gets it.” or, alternatively, someone “is clueless.” Arguably, a more holistic approach may prove more valuable. Indeed, in the vernacular a “gut” reaction is exactly what we would rely on and importantly refers directly to the physical, autonomic, emotional response we have in these situations. Of course, such a holistic analysis is by definition subjective, and the potential for bias is duly noted, yet simultaneously this holistic response is precisely the sort of comparison of expectations to reality that underlies many cross-cultural communication conflicts.

The primary researcher is clearly the individual most embedded within this data. What was my initial gut reaction in analyzing the accuracy of the non-native interpretations? In the moment, I generally thought that the non-natives did a fairly good job in interpreting the Korean emotional cues, based on the Korean focus groups, at one of the comparison phases for example I stated “[your group] didn’t disagree as much about them [the emotions expressed by two of the characters in the first scene].” an in another instance “So, I can pretty much what you all said is in that they had nearly the same emotions.” [MUST CHECK THIS AND MAKE CORRECT QUOTATION]

However, while I felt that the non-natives were clearly “in the ballpark” I raised questions in the moment about the absolute precision of their interpretations “although they didn’t say that they were two peas in a pod the businessman and the middleman, say they saw almost the exact same expressions on both the businessmen and this man in the middle.” In addition, even at the during the focus groups, there was some serious questioning of the intensity of the emotions displayed. In a few instances, the non-natives ratings of intensity differed substantially from the natives as we will see more clearly in other analysis. Alternatively, during the focus groups, I pointed to a few clear examples of the non-natives missing a cue completely. In one case I stated, “Mr. Kim was a little bit contemptuous of the other two people, I don’t know if you guys saw that at all.”

While my responses are the responses of a “first-culture American,” the Korean to English translator also reviewed all of the transcript was asked to offer a “first-culture Korean” interpretation. [Ask YOONHWA to complete this section.]

Clearly, the non-natives were less than perfect in their interpretations--even though the primary researcher’s initial reaction was that they had done fairly well in interpreting the emotions displayed in the same manner as the native culture participants. Again, we are forced to consider the threshold question. How much misunderstanding is enough to cause difficulties in communication? Moreover, is it possible to train and educate individuals involved in cross-cultural situations in the required flexibility to overcome a moderate level of misunderstanding that would seem natural in most intercultural situations. Presence or absence ratings.

One of the clearest ways to compare the accuracy of the non-native’s ability to recognize emotions as seen by people native to the culture is to ask if they see the same emotions. In this study, Appendix XXX is the notetaking worksheet that the participants used in recording each participants judgment regarding the presence or absence of some basic emotions. At the bottom of that sheet you can see that each primary character in each scene was to be rated on Ekman’s seven basic emotions. The reason participants were limited to the seven basic emotions was to enable an apples to apples comparison (Erkut, Alarcón, García Coll, Tropp, & Vázquez García, 1999) of their intensity responses. Consequently, these results provide another window for us to gauge the relative difference between the native culture participants’ judgments of the emotional intensity and the non-native participants’ judgments of the same emotions.

The participants rated the intensity of each of the seven emotions [sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, anger, contempt, and enjoyment] on a modified Likert scale in which they first needed to indicate the presence or absence of that emotion in the display of that particular character in that particular scene. Thus, with seven emotions and three characters in each of the two clips, a total of forty-two emotions were evaluated. In evaluating the ratings, the results were looked at using two separate lenses, representing lower and higher standards of agreement. In the lower standard lens, a simple majority of responses–not quite a forced choice–in each national group, were considered to be agreement as to the presence or absence of the emotion. If there was an exact tie the results were considered unclear. Under the higher standard of measurement, if the 75% or more of the nationality group stated that the emotion was present or absent then that result was considered a clear indication of presence or absence. If the response was between 25 and 75% then the result was considered unclear. This analysis regarding the presence or absence of emotions could provide a variety of results: the two groups could disagree in a contradictory fashion [one group clearly seeing the emotion, while the other clearly did not see the emotion], or one group could have a clear response while the other group’s response was unclear, or the two groups could agree.

When applying the simple majority standard to the forty-two cases to be evaluated, the Korean and North American groups agreed 86% of the time. In just less than 10% of cases, the two groups had contradictory results–one group stating that they saw the emotion, while the other group did not. While the other 4% of cases represented instances where one group was uncertain, while the other group perceived the emotion. Eighty-six percent agreement would seem a fairly high level–indeed it exceeds the level at which Ekman set for his cross-cultural studies. When we apply the more stringent 75% standard of agreement in the monocultural groups–requiring 75% or more of the individuals in the cultural group to agree on the presence or absence of the emotion–the results have all large increase in the number of unclear responses. Indeed, in about 35% of the cases one group’s response was unclear well the other group clearly saw an emotion or did not see that emotion. However, the Korean and North American groups still agreed almost 65% of the time, including acute cases where both groups were unclear. Perhaps more importantly, in no cases under this higher standard of contradictory results–where one group perceived an emotion, while the other one did not. This lack of strongly contradictory results seems particularly important, because if one culture clearly and strongly perceived emotion that the other culture clearly and strongly did not perceive, then we would find ourselves looking at a strong case of linguistic relativism indicating major difficulties in the intercultural communication of emotional cues.

A strong case can be made for a fairly broad capability of the non-native participants in this study to, in the large majority of cases, accurately perceive the same basic emotions that the Koreans were perceiving. However, while this result was in line with Ekman’s research, and therefore not entirely surprising, the fact that a real range of questionable and contradictory understandings were found in this study raises an important question that this study was not designed to address: Is there a threshold point where the misinterpretation of displayed emotional cues results in problems for intercultural communication? Is eighty percent accuracy enough for productive and civil interaction, or would a “one in a million” misinterpretation be sufficient to cause problems between individuals?

In addition to determining the presence or absence of the emotions and when the Korean and North American groups are in agreement, the Likert scales can be used to explore differences in intensity ratings for observed emotions across the cultural groups. This question of ability to interpret the intensity of emotions will be addressed later in this section of the chapter.

4.1.1 Focus group discussions.

The use of focus groups is a fairly unique methodology in foreign language learning research and requires a slightly different conceptualization than other more common FL methods. The examination of the textual data from audio recordings and transcripts in terms of accuracy raised four issues to consider: a holistic view of non-native accuracy, translation effects, word choice differences, and intensity variation. While examining the note-taking worksheets allows us to look at four separate, but interrelated issues: the breadth of responses, the worksheet as a frame, a statistical analysis of comparative accuracy and a separate statistical analysis of intensity differences.

4.1 Accuracy of Non-native Interpretation of Intra-cultural Emotional Communication

The consideration of accuracy of non-natives’ interpretation of the emotional cues that native speakers use when communicating with one another is essential to determining if cross-cultural differences exist between these two national groups in terms of emotional cue interpretation. The literature offers two suggestions for how accurate the non-native speakers interpretations will be. Ekmans (???) and other’s (???) suggest that emotions and emotional cues are essentially universal, so there should be little difference in interpretations, while Mead (???) and other’s (???) expect that we will find striking differences. The data from this study offers two windows into the question of accuracy. The discussions of the focus groups provide one window into the accuracy of non-natives’ interpretations, while the notetaking worksheets provide another, and more traditional method of measuring the accuracy of non-native interpretations of any cross-cultural interpretive act.

chapter four intro

This study set out to explore the cues we use for communicating emotion in detail and in a cross-cultural setting as well as the processes involved in interpreting those emotional cues. The specific research questions focus on four ideas: the accuracy of the non-native in interpreting the cues of another culture, the role of various communication channels (words, gestures, tone of voice, etc.) in that emotional communication both intra- and inter-culturally, the role of cognitive processes such as reliance on cultural scripts or cognitive appraisal in the interpretation of emotional cues, various social processes involved in negotiating that interpretation and how that might aid in cross-cultural understanding and education. To that end a focus group methodology supported by individual participants observational worksheets constituted the major data collection tools. The participants’ observational worksheets were analyzed and summarized using descriptive statistics, while the focus group transcripts were analyzed for vocabulary use and emergent themes of individual interpretation, as well as for patterns of negotiation amongst the participants. The discussion of this data has been grouped into five sections: the accuracy of North Americans interpretation of Koreans intra-cultural emotional communication, the language used to talk about emotions, the different mechanisms/channels the various groups use to describe their interpretation process, the themes that emerged out of their discussion regarding emotional communication, and how their negotiations provide inferences about the social construction of emotional communication.

• accuracy of non-native interpretation of intra-cultural emotional communication
• language used to talk about emotional communication
• different mechanisms/channels used in the interpretation process,
• emergent themes regarding emotional communication,
• inferences about the social construction of emotional communication.

cleaning up

will spend the next couple of days posting the sections of chapter four in order . . . to let myself review them and know where the gaps are . . .