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English as a lingua franca in Italian-Japanese business negotiation. A case study.

The aim of the present study is to investigate the nature of communicative misunderstandings between two specific opposite cultural models: the Italian and the Japanese one. I will try to find out the causes which contribute to generate these misunderstandings between Italian and Japanese people discovering that the main source of the communicative problems analysed seems to coincide in the measure these people adopt to avoid these kind of incomprehensions: the use of English as a neutral means of communication. The English language in fact, although it is used to make verbal interactions clearer, is the chief source of problems. To be more precise, this analysis of the above-mentioned communicative gap will focus on a very limited sphere of action: the business world. It will examine the difficulties Italian and Japanese companies have to face when they do business together. The idea for this topic was suggested to me by a stimulating course of study on business English and business Japanese, at the University of Turin. Another experience that was significant for this work has been the one-month homestay I took in Japan. This trip, organized in September 2002 in Kanazawa, the chief town of Ishikawa prefecture, offered me the chance to have a tangible confirmation of what I had studied. The most substantial part of the problems observed concerns the communication between these two countries and seems to be strictly linked to a superficial understanding of the other party’ s language and culture. The number of Italian companies doing business with Japan is growing rapidly and, especially in the last decades, Japan’ s interest for the Italian market and products has been rising significantly. A large number of Japanese boys and girls is taking a great interest in Italian culture; lots of courses that allow people to learn Italian are spreading and, every year, the number of Japanese people going to Italy on a journey is increasing. The growing number of contacts between Italy and Japan, especially at the business level, has put into evidence the great amount of discrepancies between these two (fundamentally opposite) cultures. This gap displays itself in a variety of aspects, not only in everyday life but also within the company. A selection of the most complex points will follow. Some of them will be analysed and explained in more detail at the end of the second chapter:
• the importance of business cards for Japanese people
• Italian directness versus Japanese ambiguity in expressing their thoughts
• Italian individualism versus Japanese conformism to the group
• the role of hierarchy which dominates every aspect of Japanese life
• the contrasting view of the written contract
• the concept of life-time employment in Japan and the role of the company which takes care of employees
• the different seating order in business meetings

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
5 Introduction Nel ringraziare di un favore un suo professore di psichiatria Takeo Doi gli dice: “I’m sorry”, provocando, naturalmente, la perplessa risposta dell’americano: “What are you sorry for?”. La natura del problema è in rapporto – oltre che con la superficiale conoscenza della lingua inglese – con la struttura stessa della lingua giapponese, dove il soggetto che costruisce l’enunciato si caratterizza attraverso l’osservanza delle complessissime formule della cortesia. La trasgressione di tali formule implicherebbe non solo una maleducazione, ma anche un errore grammaticale poiché non consentirebbe di identificare adeguatamente il rapporto tra il soggetto e l’interlocutore. In questo frangente Takeo Doi si trova difatti alle prese con un problema di livello. In giapponese infatti egli non potrebbe rivolgersi a un superiore con un semplice “grazie” (dōmo arigatō) e, dunque, non può dire “thank you”; nella sua lingua egli dovrebbe formulare un grazie indicativo della sua condizione di subordinato (per es. dōmo sumimasen), che significa all’incirca l’ “essere obbligato”, l’avere acquisito un vincolo di riconoscenza e di dipendenza. Cercando di rendere in inglese questa sua posizione , che gli è imposta dalla sua educazione, ma anche dalla struttura della sua lingua, egli si dichiara spiacente, nella convinzione che ciò “abbasserà” il suo livello interlocutorio nella giusta misura. Oltre alla ovvia e immediata conseguenza che questo malinteso ha sulla comunicazione e sulla comunicazione intersoggettiva suscitando l’ incomprensione e la perplessità dell’americano, questo esempio dà avvio ad una riflessione sulla lingua e sul pensiero giapponese. 1 (Doi, 1991: 10-11). This quotation has been taken from the introduction by Jorge Canestri to the Italian edition of The anatomy of dependence (1981) by Takeo Doi. This book is a 1 Thanking his American psychiatry teacher for a favour, Takeo Doi says: “I’ m sorry” generating as a result the puzzled reply: “What are you sorry for?”. The root of the problem has to be looked for not only in the superficial knowledge of the English language but also in the structure of Japanese itself. The structure of this language, in fact, requires the subject of the sentence being characterized by the observance of complex rules of politeness. Neglecting this kind of formula would imply not only impoliteness, but it would be regarded as an authentic grammatical mistake because it does not allow identifying the subject-interlocutor relation properly. In this situation Takeo Doi is facing a problem of level. Speaking his language he wouldn’t be allowed to address his superior by saying: “Thank you” (dōmo arigatō). In Japanese he would be expected to use a formula, which expresses his subordinate status (for example dōmo sumimasen which means “to be obliged”, “to be bound by a tie of gratitude and dependence”). Consequently, he says he is sorry trying to convert into English his position, a position due to his education and to the Japanese language structure. By choosing this way of acting, he thinks he has lowered his level in the right way. Apart from the immediate and inevitable effects this misunderstanding had on communication (teacher’ s incomprehension and perplexity), this example constituted the starting point for an investigation into Japanese language and way of thinking (my translation).

Tesi di Laurea

Facoltà: Lingue e Letterature Straniere

Autore: Paola Garino Contatta »

Composta da 216 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 2724 click dal 09/12/2005.


Consultata integralmente 2 volte.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.