Friday, October 29, 2010

Zig Zaggin' Rhetoric

I'm currently in a Teaching a Second Language: Theory and Practice course, and although I was really apprehensive about it at the beginning, I'm slowly growing to enjoy it. The textbook is kind of a drag, but every now and again there's something particularly interesting or thought-provoking. For the most part, what is most fascinating about this class is the off-topic, tangential interaction of the students on our experiences in learning, teaching, or encountering second languages. Probably three-quarters of the class is from China, Korea, Japan, or Taiwan, which has really opened my eyes to a culture group I've never really spent much time with before. Overall, all of our experiences are truly unique and interesting, and I like to bring in the Jewish and Israeli cultural experience.

Something we read recently gave me pause, and we discussed it, and I'm still not sure I get it. I thought perhaps you -- my highly intelligent and educated readers -- might have better insight on this. There's this guy, Robert Kaplan, who wrote a paper on contrastive rhetoric in 1966 suggesting that different languages (and their cultures) have different patterns of written discourse. Okay, easy enough, makes sense. But then he went and created this diagram, which is really beyond me. Sort of.

So, English makes sense. English speakers, and Americans especially, like to be direct, to get to the point, and they expect others to get to the point. They don't dance around the answer or subject or topic. I didn't really get the Oriental image until it was explained to me that individuals from the Asiatic countries don't like to say "yes" or "no," because, depending on who you're talking to, your opinion isn't really necessary to share. So you sort of loop around a "yes" or "no" by explaining all of the possible answers and reasoning and never really stating your opinion, except in a roundabout way.

But Semitic, Russian, and Romance really leave me confused.  Any Russian or Romance language speakers think they can explain the visual representation of a written or spoken discussion? And Hebrew speakers? Care to take on the Zig Zag?

The dashes represent something, too. I'm perplexed.