Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 6, Februari 2003

Lin Ma

Is There an Essential Difference between Intercultural and Intracultural Communication?

Abstract

In this paper, I put into question the idea that there is an essential difference between intercultural communication and intracultural communication. After considering dominating assumptions and ideas leading to this dichotomy, I argue that communication should be explored in terms of particular instances of human action and reaction that are embedded in concrete life situation, and that culture should not be taken as a seamless whole which can be absolutely isolated from each other as abstract entities. Moreover, invoking Wittgenstein’s notion of language-game, I show that the so-labeled intercultural communication and intracultural communication are not far from each other radically as is commonly assumed. Almost all academic writings on the topic of intercultural communication have treated it as essentially different from intracultural communication. This assumption suggests not only that these are two different types of communication, but also that this difference is a qualitative one, as distinct from a difference of degree in terms of the pragmatic success of communicative interaction between persons. The presupposition of a qualitative difference between the two finds its expression in the fact that intercultural communication is presented in the relevant literature almost unanimously as necessarily more difficult than intracultural communication. This idea is far from being justified. In this paper, I consider dominating assumptions leading to the general outlook according to which intercultural communication is regarded as categorically different from intracultural communication. Then I demonstrate that the issue of interpersonal communication should be explored in terms of particular instances of human action and reaction that are embedded in concrete life situation, and that cultures are not seamless wholes which can be absolutely isolated from each other and abstract entities. Finally, by a thought experiment which extends Wittgenstein’s language-game of the builders, I show that the so-labeled intercultural communication and intracultural communication are not far from each other radically as is commonly assumed.


Back to Intercultural Communication
Back to the Immigrant Institute