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Language Shock: Understanding The Culture Of Conversation 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0688149499
ISBN-10: 0688149499
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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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; 1 edition (December 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688149499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688149499
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Michael Agar has a Ph.D. from the Language Behavior Research Laboratory at Berkeley and currently teaches at the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Maryland.

Agar’s opening remarks, in a chapter entitled “Culture Blends” is not what one might expect. Is he talking about cross-cultural problems? Well, sort of. Is he talking about sub-cultural “conflict”—yes, in a way. His “language shock” actually came when he was speaking English to a university colleague, a female, who initially took what he said (an intended “Thanks!” for some help on a project) which she interpreted as a pick-up line which she rebuffed. Agar’s point here is to show the intertwining of language and culture and the subtleties interlaced in our conversations with one another. In that example it was between the world of the male and the world of the female.

Agar gives another example. A policeman in Washington, D.C. shot a man who turned out to be Hispanic. The officer didn’t speak Spanish. A riot ensued because of the lack of communication between the officer and the inhabitants of the area of D.C. the officer was in. But the author notes that people tend to “squeeze the concept much too tightly.” He goes on to say: “To understand language, you have to understand that DIFFERENCES IN LANGUAGE GO WELL BEYOND WHAT YOU FIND IN THE GRAMMAR AND THE DICTIONARY” (His emphasis). (p. 15f). He notes that the grammars “are clear as freshly washed crystal. Du, the informal version [in German], is for relatives, friends, and kids. Sie is for everybody else. However, the rule doesn’t carry you very far.” (p. 18). We are talking about the difference between SPEAKING a language and COMMUNICATING in one. This is why, if you are going to speak across cultures or even across sub-cultures, this book is important.
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By A Customer 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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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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Format: Paperback
Good: Michael Agar shows the interaction between language, culture and daily behaviour for insiders and outsiders. Insiders know implicit (and explicit) the meaning behind words and sentences that outsiders with only knowledge of a language may not be aware of. He shares his open mind for several environments/cultures wherein he has lived. He makes a strong plea for open mindness to a foreign cultures otherwise unknown/uncommon behaviour may be regarded as a defect in another culture resulting in rejection or worse.

Debatable: Michael uses a organic/lingering style with many personal examples. This style has its merits and its shortcomings - see other reviews.

Conclusion: recommended - a readable introduction to foreign combination of language/culture and way of living
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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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Easy book to comprehend. Explains theories with examples rather than interpretations.
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