2012-04-27

Digital research tools for linguists (and other researchers)

This week I had to prepare a list of digital research tools, i.e., desktop programs (for Windows and sometimes also for other operating systems) and online services, that in my opinion facilitate and enhance research input and output, and sent it to a certain group of linguists. I expand and reproduce it here, hoping that it might also benefit other linguists as well as researchers in other areas and simply anyone who wants to get things done efficiently. I myself use (most of) these digital research tools. All of them, except for EditPad Pro, are free.

2012-04-20

Intercultural pragmatics

For the past few weeks I have been working on a talk I am invited to give at some huge international conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Israel to be held in the beginning of May in Jerusalem. The talk I proposed is entitled "Cultural Differences and Possible Misunderstandings in Communication between Japanese and Israelis". This is the first time that my talk at an academic conference will be based not so much on purely academic research by myself and others as on my personal experiences, observations and reflections (in this specific case, first as a Japanese citizen, now as an Israeli citizen, as a speaker and teacher of both Japanese and Hebrew, and as a researcher of Hebrew).

I remember reading some books about how cultural differences affect intercultural communication and being fascinated by the subject when I was still a high school student. I continued to study various languages and linguistics since then, but it was not until a few weeks ago that there exists an independent linguistic discipline studying this and similar subjects called "intercultural pragmatics" or "cross-cultural pragmatics". In the meanwhile I have found and started reading two fascinating books (Cross-Cultural Pragmatics by Anna Wierzbicka; Pragmatics across Languages and Cultures edited by Anna Trosborg) and checking one academic journal (Intercultural Pragmatics) devoted to this discipline.

These two books have given me a clear academic answer to what I felt during and after the World Congress of Esperanto last summer in Copenhagen: what we say in intercultural communication may be correct grammatically but not culturally, hence communicatively; cultural differences in pragmatics (= how to use the language in real contexts) must also be understood. I am even inclined to go so far as to say that true communication is possible only between people sharing more or less the same culture.

Having been "hovering" between Japanese and Israeli cultures for the past 24 years, I have an impression that it will not be so easy to find two cultures that are so different from each other than these two cultures. In terms of communication, Japanese and Israeli cultures can be characterized as indirect and context-dependent, and direct and context-independent respectively. There are also fundamental differences in their respective strategies for various speech acts, including apologizing, requesting, inviting, agreeing, refusing, complaining etc., as well as in aspects of non-verbal communication.

This is an excellent occasion for me to formulate differences between Japanese and Israeli cultures of communication and become aware of possible misunderstandings that they may cause.

2012-04-12

Learning for free vs. learning in exchange for money

If we can receive the same merchandise either for free or in exchange for money, perhaps almost all of us will not hesitate to choose the former option, at least as long as this is legal. Learning seems to be a special kind of "merchandise" in this respect.

The truth is that I have been thinking of teaching an intensive summer course on a certain subject. It never occurred to me to charge the participants, as the purpose of the course is not to make money but to promote this subject here in Jerusalem. I am still of two minds about whether to organize it this summer, but as part of theoretical preparation for it I have started consulting other experienced teachers of the subject about this plan (or even dream) of mine. All of those whom I have asked so far told me unanimously that it would be a pedagogical mistake to allow the participants in the course to learn for free and I should charge them for the course, even at a symbolic amount.

This advice of theirs reminded me another advice I had read in a book by one of the most famous linguists-cum-polyglots in Japan: "If you want to learn a new foreign language, you should pay for your learning, even by hiring someone whose only task is to sit still beside you and just listen to you read aloud or speak that language for yourself." This seems to apply not only to learning languages but also to learning other things.

Unfortunately, many of us, including myself, are built psychologically in such a way that if we can learn something for free, we may not take it and the very process of learning it very seriously and may even feel free to quit it very easily. Paying money for our learning surely helps us commit ourselves to what we (are to) learn and persevere.

But in spite of all this, I am also worried that if I should decide to charge a tuition fee, I might end up having no participant in the course as its subject is already known to be not so appealing to many people, especially among the young. So I am looking for some alternative to money as an incentive to commitment and perseverance.