Intercultural Glossary

Use this basic glossary to look up the definition of words or explore new concepts.

A

ACCULTURATION
the modification of a person's or a group's culture through the influence of the culture of another group.
ADAPTATION
the process of accommodating to new ways of doing things by making changes in one's own behaviour and assumptions.

C

COLLECTIVISM
identifying with the needs of the group over the needs of the individual.
CROSS-CULTURAL
the interaction, communication, or other processes between people or entities from two or more different cultures.
CULTURE
the values, behaviours, practices, assumptions we've learned from our membership in groups that share them. (see PERSONALITY, HUMAN NATURE)
CULTURAL ASSIMILATION
a greater degree of to the extent that the original culture is suppressed or a new culture is adopted. (see ACCULTURATION)
CULTURE SHOCK
the discomfort experienced by people on encountering and trying to adjust to unfamiliar cultural practices.

D

DECODING
uncovering the meaning within messages conveyed through culturally-determined words, gestures, timing, context.
DIFFUSE
one of the value dimensions proposed by Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1997) reflecting one's preference for "how far we get involved". In a diffuse culture, relationships are established carefully but once established they encompass multiple areas of life and are not restricted to 'just business' or 'a friend from tennis'. (see SPECIFIC)

E

ETHNOCENTRIC
seeing one's own group's way of doing things as the normal and desirable way; assessing other people's ways of doing things from the perspective of one's own values.
ETHNORELATIVE
acknowledging that another's values and beliefs, and resulting assumptions and behaviour, are logically connected, and that there is no absolute position from which to judge morals, knowledge, truth. [This does not imply that all cultures' practices are acceptable; only that one needs to consider cultural context when evaluating the practices encountered in another culture.]

G

GENERALIZE
using a predominant characteristic of its members to describe a group without being absolute: "Canadians generally favour public funding for health care." (see STEREOTYPE)
GLOBALIZATION
an expansion beyond national borders, generally of trade and commerce.

H

HIGH CONTEXT
Edward Hall described cultures as high- or low-context. High-context cultures rely heavily on the context of an interaction to convey the message. Words are secondary in importance. The responsibility for comprehension lies mainly with the receiver of the message, who should be attuned to the subtle messages conveyed by such markers as silence, tone, the presence or absence of significant people, etc. It is proposed within this framework that, for example, First Nations Canadians and Japanese generally value high-context communication. (see LOW CONTEXT)
HUMAN NATURE
that part of our behaviour and assumptions that we inherit and share with all humans. (see PERSONALITY, CULTURE)

I

INDIVIDUALISM
The person feels independent of groups; the person's interests prevail over group interests.
INTERCULTURAL
people from different cultures interacting with each other to the extent that both are expected to make accommodations to build relationships.

L

LOW CONTEXT
Edward Hall described cultures as high- or low-context. Low context communication is explicit, so that all the information is directly contained in the utterances, and there is little or no implied meaning apart from the words that are being said. Within this framework, for example, Scandinavians and Swiss-Germans are generally seen to value low-context communication. (see HIGH CONTEXT)

M

MONOCHRONIC
the tendency to see time as linear and limited, packaged into units.
MULTICULTURAL
a group comprising people from many cultures, generally in a political or geographic context.

P

PARTICULARISM
one of the value dimensions proposed by Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1997), describing the preference for relationships over rules. Particularist societies tend to be more flexible with rules, acknowledging that in order to ensure fairness, one must take into account the unique circumstances. (see UNIVERSALISM)
PERSONALITY
our uniqueness, arising from the cultural influence of the many groups that influence us, as well as our inborn inherited tendencies and preferences. (see CULTURE, HUMAN NATURE)
POLYCHRONIC
the tendency to see time as circular, unlimited, able to be used for many things at once.
POWER DISTANCE
the extent to which people at the lower levels in a hierarchy accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. From sociologist Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions.

S

SPECIFIC
one of the value dimensions proposed by Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1997) reflecting one preference for "how far we get involved". In a specific culture, relationships are established easily but categorized into specific areas of life. Friends from work may not overlap with family friends or friends from tennis. (see DIFFUSE)
STEREOTYPE
the attribution of a predominant characteristic of a group to an individual in the group without recognition of the reality of individual variation within a group.. "Lee is Canadian so we assume she favours public funding for health care." (See GENERALIZE)

T

TRIANGULATION
in geological or physical science surveying, a technique of determining the location of an object by reference to three known locations; in cultural learning, triangulation refers to using a variety of media (people, print, literature, television) and several different sources of each before deciding the meaning of something in another culture.

U

UNIVERSALISM
one of the value dimensions proposed by Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (1997), reflecting the preference for rules over relationships. In a universalist culture, fairness is ensured by applying rules equally to everyone, regardless of relationships. (see PARTICULARISM)

V

VALUES
those qualities of behaviour, thought, and character that society regards as being intrinsically good, having desirable results, and worthy of emulation by others.