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Language Shock: Understanding The Culture Of Conversation Paperback – December 16, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0688149499 ISBN-10: 0688149499 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition (December 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688149499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688149499
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Agar, an anthropologist and ethnographer, wants Americans to break out of their cultural superiority complex and to join "the growing global conversation" embracing multicultural voices. Leaning on linguist Benjamin Whorf's theory that each language shapes its speakers' ways of seeing, acting, thinking and feeling, Agar relates personal encounters with language and cultural differences, drawing on his stay in Austria during the Kurt Waldheim Nazi scandal in 1986, his work as a public health official treating heroin addicts in Kentucky in 1968, travels in Mexico and Greece and village kinship systems in India. The informal, highly anecdotal narrative sketches a theory of "languaculture," Agar's coinage emphasizing the inextricable links between language and culture and the way we build mental "frames" to organize our expectations. Agar, who teaches anthropology at the University of Maryland, serves a smorgasbord with tasty tidbits instead of a full meal.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Perceptive anecdotes from Austria, India, and Mexico, from heroin-addict treatment centers, scuba dives, and linguistics conferences pepper this primer on the intricacies of cross-cultural discourse and ordinary conversation. Coining the term ``languaculture'' to merge two somewhat ambiguous concepts into one slightly less uncertain term, Agar, a professor of linguistic anthropology (Univ. of Maryland, College Park), argues that language is not simply grammar and vocabulary (never mind phonology); that culture is as tangible and fluid as daily life; and that the two are intertwined--and often get snarled up. In his astute informal gloss of converging concepts in linguistics and cultural anthropology, Agar takes exception to the Berlitz notion of standardized phrases for generic situations as a means of getting along in foreign countries, as though communication merely involved set responses to set frames of reference. In his search for ethnographic ``rich points'' (where native and non-native speakers are likely to trip themselves up), Agar sometimes fixes on commonplace words that have particular cultural significance but slippery definitions. In one instance, while working in Vienna, he spent some free time trying to find the meaning of Schm„ha sort of defensive irony, or sly black humor, or slick equivocation. One student gave the example of Austrian-born Marie Antoinette's infamous ``Let them eat cake'' as typical Schm„h; but though Marie's French was perfect grammatically, the sans-culottes still did not catch on to her intention, which was not to mock the lower classes but to deflect the tension of the situation through humor. Speech acts--more general forms of social discourse like joking or lying--can be more slippery still for both speakers and society, as Agar demonstrates in an analysis of Kurt Waldheim's rationalizations of his Nazi collaboration. If his discussion of scholarship tends to skim over important figures and ideas (such as Wittgenstein and anthropologist Harold Garfinkel) and his original insights are slight by comparison, his presentation is readable and his observations engaging. A stimulating personal reflection on the complexities of communication between people, in whatever language or culture. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Michael Agar left the university in 1995 to work independently. Now he works out of the high desert of New Mexico on projects that range from water to metaphors to clinic management. At the moment he's finishing up a book called The Lively Science: Remodeling Human Social Research, which is about how if we quit trying to turn social science into a branch of physics we'll learn a lot more about how the world works. His only regret is that he never learned how to play tenor saxophone. His only unfulfilled wish is for more water in the Southwest. But on the whole life is good, except when he has to travel by air. He lives in a house that mixes southwestern pseudo-adobe style and 1950s beatnik with his vieja and wonders what's going to happen next. You can see more at ethknoworks.com.

Customer Reviews

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So many things can go wrong!
D. R. Ransdell
I highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in getting a rudimentary introduction to the ways in which language and culture intermesh.
"watersong73"
In either case, this book quickly becomes tiresome due to the author's intrusive, egotistical ramblings.
Isaac Gregoire

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Brian Jones on February 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Language Shock" helped me to understand my experience of living in a foreign land -- China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Agar's inights drawn the fields of anthropology and linguistics gave me a way of processing the "rich points" of those cultures. Since first reading the book a few years ago I have studied linguistics in more depth, and I have to say that Agar's approach to langauge and culture is still one of the best I have encountered. I highly recommend it to anyone living in a foreign country, and anyone with an interest in language and culture.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "watersong73" on June 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in getting a rudimentary introduction to the ways in which language and culture intermesh. I read it as part of a class at the UMD, though I didn't take it with Agar, and it was one of my most favorite parts of the class. I think it deserves credit as a book that's enjoyable, not just educational. There's a very short list of the books I've read for classes that were hard to put down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. R. Ransdell on December 1, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I went to a recent conference on this topic, nearly all the scholars cited this work. That's especially interesting because it's written for the lay reader, not for scholars. Yet the book accomplishes its goal. It presents in clear terms some of the many reasons that it's hard to communicate with people from other language groups. Cultural expectations so often get in the way, or at the very least, they complicate things.

Agar spent a long time in Austria, so he has many useful personal experiences to draw upon. His book makes it clear that communicating to people of other cultures is a tremendous feat. So many things can go wrong! But in this global world, developing the savvy to talk to international colleagues is crucial. Although Agar's book was published nearly twenty years ago, it's still very useful. For teachers who will have second-language writers in their classrooms, the book should be on a must-read list.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By AnthropologistInTraining on October 20, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had to buy this book for a Linguistic Anthropology "Language and Culture" class I was taking and dreaded having to read this book. The way it's written is just so utterly boring. If you're looking for an interesting read related to the subfield, I would recommend the 2nd edition of "Linguistic Anthropology", edited by Alessandro Duranti.
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By Rebecca on February 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this as a gift for a dear friend. He loves this book. IT was a wonderful purchase for people that are interested in this topic.
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