"Научный аспект №2-2019" - Гуманитарные науки

Intercultural communication and miscommunication: understanding chinese in Kenya

Черуто Патриция – магистр кафедры Иностранных языков и коммуникативных технологий Национального исследовательского технологического университета «МИСиС».

Аннотация: В статье исследуются проблемы межкультурной коммуникации на примере бытования китайского языка в Кении: опыт китайско-английских переводчиков и оценка отношения и восприятия межкультурных знаний слушателей и ораторов. Для изучения этого явления используются квалитативный подход, индивидуальные интервью, разного рода нарративы. Данные анализируются тематически на основе теории динамической эквивалентности Юджина Ниды.

Ключевые слова: Межкультурная коммуникация, перевод, китайцы, Кения.

Abstract: This paper explores intercultural communication / miscommunication of Chinese present in Kenya: the experiences of the Chinese-English translators working in Kenya. A qualitative approach, individual semi-structured interviews, written narratives are used to explore this phenomenon with ten participants. The data was analyzed thematically guided by Eugene Nida’s “Dynamic Equivalence theory”.

Keywords: Communication, miscommunication, translation, Chinese, Kenya

Culture is one of the factors that determine the way people think, act, and interact, which is clearly reflected in people communication behavior. In Kenya today hundreds of thousands of Chinese are living. This paper explores the experiences of the Chinese-English translators working in Kenya. The data was analyzed thematically guided by Eugene Nida’s “Dynamic Equivalence theory”.

Findings indicate that knowledge of both the source language and the target language is likewise noteworthy in understanding the substance of what is interpreted, and realizing how to incorporate interpretation experience to dynamically build the interpretation quality. Despite some challenges like intonation misconceptions, dialect continuum and fast speech, the participants revealed that Chinese-English interpreting is an interesting experience that enhances the bond between the Chinese and Kenyans. It was revealed that participants engage in several strategies like reading a lot of Chinese books, keeping mutual relationships and appreciating each other’s culture, watching Chinese movies and commentaries usually gain a better understanding of the Chinese language and improve their translation.

In today‘s world, modernization has increased human mobility and extended contacts with people from different cultures. In other words, intercultural communication has become one obvious feature of globalization. Therefore, people have differences in cultural backgrounds, living patterns, educational, political and economic conditions, even hobbies and characters, so there exist all kinds of problems and difficulties in intercultural communication Li, Y. (2011).  For this reason, it is not surprising to find that people have faced numerous difficulties and obstacles in understanding one another while communicating in different contexts. It is then worth noting that no one can overlook the inseparability of language and culture and the importance of both for successful communication.

Communication is a very significant aspect and a necessary prerequisite in human life. It goes through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules. Kenya being one of the business and education destinations of Chinese people, there are hundreds of thousands of them in Kenya. The fact that the Chinese hold completely different culture and cultural beliefs calls for two possibilities: communication and/or miscommunication. This warrants interpretation by people who have either basic or specific knowledge about English and Chinese languages. A good interpreter therefore needs to take note of such differences and interpret them in a way that does not make the listener feel detached from the conversation by appropriately interpreting what certain cultural statements or references mean in the Chinese language. Facing the glaring reality that English language is predominant globally especially in the business and education sectors, one has to adopt the English language to get oneself communicate in most parts of the world. China is one the developed countries that dominate the business and education sectors. Looking at China’s unique language system and cultural-political background, this study is of paramount effect among the Chinese-English speakers, listeners and interpreters.

This study uses qualitative research methods (with a phenomenology design) to collect and analyze data. From the interviews and written narratives, it can be concluded that culture knowledge is a major lacuna in any language proficiency. Participants emphasized the importance of cultural sensitivity when translating either from Chinese to English or English to Chinese, and cultural growth often depends on the ability to gain a fresh appreciation of other cultures through translation. Therefore, translators should understand the significance of cultural differences among the audience and their needs. For effective communication, interpreters should know both languages and both cultures. Cultural errors in translation will negatively affect intercultural communication and may offend the target audience. Most English speakers do not understand Chinese language and culture; therefore, it is difficult for them to comprehend what an inaccurate translation is trying to convey. Mistranslation and intercultural miscommunication can also be minimised through communicators by being observant with how native speakers of a language react to different expressions, associating each other’s cultures. However, attention should also be put on the mode of speaking, especially pronunciation of words. This aspect is also responsible for intercultural miscommunication as it changes meanings of differently pronounced words.


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  4. Nida, Eugene Albert, and Charles Russell Taber. 2003. The theory and practice of translation. Vol. 8: Brill.
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