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American Speech 79.4 (2004) 438-441

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Cultural Basis of Linguistic Style

University of Alabama in Huntsville
African American Communication: Exploring Identity and Culture. By Michael L. Hecht, Ronald L. Jackson II, and Sidney A. Ribeau Second ed. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum, 2003. Pp. v + 321.

This text examines African Americans and their perceptions of identity and communication. The authors note that the book's intent is to establish a starting point for the study and research of African American and other cultural groups' communication styles. The text is divided into six chapters: an introduction, "Self, Identity, Cultural Identity, and African American Cultural Identity," "Communication Competence," "African American Language and Communication Styles," "African American Relationships and Cultural Identity Negotiation," and the conclusion. Each chapter is then divided into subsections focusing on specific problems related to the main chapter's title.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide an outline of what the authors view as the cultural approach to communication. In chapter 1, the authors introduce the readers to symbols, meanings, and norms of cultures and how they apply to African American communication. We are told that "African American communication is grounded in African American cultural identities" (1) and that "communication is meaningful because of the culture that frames it, and culture must be expressed to exist" (2). Therefore, culture and communication are inseparable. The authors state that communication is a cultural process and make the following assumptions about culture as the basis for their research: [End Page 438]

Culture is historically and socially emergent,
People cocreate and maintain culture as a function of identity,
People negotiate their identities when they come in contact with others (code-switching),
Memberships in cultures are pluralistic and overlapping,
Culture is a system of interdependent patterns of conduct and interpretations, and
Perceptions provide a rich source of interpretive data.

Chapter 2, "Self, Identity, and Cultural Identity, and African American Cultural Identity," focuses more on individual cultural identity as defined by symbols, meanings, codes, and communities. We are told that culture is an "interpretive process that manifests itself in code, conversation, and community" (45), the primary components of the authors' communication theory, which is defined in detail in chapter 6. In this chapter, the authors state that cultural consciousness is not fully defined by identity, and that identity "provides a selected orientation toward a culture" (46). Self-identification, how African Americans perceive themselves, will influence their social behavior. Cultural identity, how African Americans interact with members of their own social group, is "problematic, receding and emerging in importance as people seek to define and redefine group memberships" (70). Language plays an important role in cultural identity, since language and dialect have been related to identities (71). Finally, it is noted that African American cultural identities continue to suffer in the United States because the environment is not "conducive to a strong, positive" cultural identity (74).

Chapter 3, "Communication Competence," focuses on identifying issues and recommending strategies to clarify cultural differences when communicating with other groups. One subchapter titled "Intercultural Communication Issues" defines seven issues identified by African Americans as critical elements when communicating with European Americans (110-16): (1) NEGATIVE STEREOTYPING, "the use of rigid racial categories that distort an African American's individuality"; (2) ACCEPTANCE, knowing that others accept, confirm, and respect their opinions; (3) EMOTIONAL EXPRESSIVENESS, identified as the "core symbol of uniqueness," deals with communication of feelings and thoughts; (4) AUTHENTICITY, the ability to be oneself, is identified as an important element in communication for both African American males and females; (5) UNDERSTANDING, knowing that their meaning was successfully conveyed and received; (6) GOAL ATTAINMENT, the ability to achieve a desired end; and (7) POWERLESSNESS, the feeling of being "controlled, manipulated and trapped." I strongly recommend reading this chapter to anyone seeking better understanding of how to communicate effectively with African Americans and other cultural groups. [End Page 439]

Chapter 4, "African American Language and Communication Styles," identifies language styles and how members establish their identities through language use, in particular Black English. Black English is defined as "a distinctive language code." Black English is...


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pp. 438-441
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Archived 2005
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