“Dialogue” is what Anna Wierzbicka (2006) has called a key cultural term. It is pervasive in its use, rich in its meanings, and dense in the morality for conduct its use brings with it. We can hear calls for dialogue in multiple academic and public discourses. Over the past few years, conferences have asked us to reflect upon dialogue, or to engage in it, especially with the phrase, “Intercultural Dialogue.” The European Union has declared our time as a time for “Intercultural Dialogue.” As a result, “dialogue” has become prevalent, prominent, and potent in its meanings, and in its declaration of a preferred form for the conduct of communicative action. Who, indeed, would be against “dialogue”?
In the United States, we have been asked to engage in a Dialogue on Race, on Education, and indeed about what it is to be “an American.” In spheres of activity where peoples are brought together, we are asked to reflect upon “dialogue” and the ways, including new ways of thinking about it, of engaging in it, especially with those different from or in conflict with us. We believe such pleas and calls for dialogue are important to heed. Yet also, we have discovered that each can bring with it very specific ideas about what this form of communication is. This project has been led by Donal Carbaugh (Massachusetts, USA) and has involved participants from several different languages and countries including Xinmei Ge (China), David Boromisza-Habashi (Hungarian), Elena Khatskevich Nuciforo (Russian), Saila Poutiainen (Finland), Makato Saito (Japan), Dong-shin Shin (Korea), among others. We found that “dialogue” is of course valued as a type of social action, yet the type of action being valued varies by the goals being targeted, by implicit rules for conduct, by what was deemed proper as its tone, mode, and interactional structure. Different moral qualities are brought into play when pleas are made to “Come and Engage in a Dialogue.” Because of this, especially when people speak from different cultural circumstances, and different languages, one plea for “dialogue” may not match another, with strained relations, confusion, misapprehension, misattribution of intent and so on resulting. Equally difficult are circumstances when people are speaking the same language, increasingly English, but use that language differently all the while believing they are saying a similar thing.
This has led us to ask: what exactly is being targeted as people call for Dialogue? What form of social interaction is being requested? What motives for, and meanings of such action are at play? Our work has taken a look at several linguistic clusters related to “dialgoue” in order to ask: Is there something like “dialogue” in each, as a cultural concept and as a form of practice? The research explores each as an expressive system-in-use by examining both the relevant terms relating to dialogue in these languages and the practices referenced with those terms. Some preliminary findings are that these cultural discourses, considered together, reveal a wide variety of possibilities that are active when “dialogue” is being advocated, mentioned, and translated. Our latest publication is in the special issue of the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication on Dialogue co-edited by colleagues Prue Holmes (Durham, UK) and Shiv Ganesh (Waikato, NZ).
(Submitted by Donal Carbaugh)