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Lecture Series Explores Communicative Supertypes, Russian as a Reality-Oriented Language, and Language & Culture

On March 19 and 22, Per Durst-Andersen, professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School, gave three lectures at the Higher School of Economics on topics that fall under his current research interests, which focus largely on cognitive linguistics; communicative and linguistic typology; language, culture and identity; semiotics; and the philosophy of science. A well-known expert in cross-cultural pragmatics and specialist in business communication, Professor Durst-Andersen delivered the lectures as part of the ‘Language in the Universe of Culture: Russian Communicative Style’ course.

Differences in communicative supertypes

Professor Durst-Andersen’s first lecture, ‘Communicative supertypes. Why Russian, Chinese and English differ fundamentally from one another’, centred on evidence from various types of communication and discourse that demonstrate that people having, respectively, Russian, Chinese and English as their mother tongue communicate in three distinct ways because their languages belong to different communicative supertypes. Russian describes situations in external and internal reality – it is third person-oriented; Chinese is oriented towards the speaker’s experiences – it is first person-oriented; and English gives information to the hearer – it is second person-oriented.

This new typology of languages is based on primarily two things. First, according to Professor Durst-Andersen, it appears that reality exists in three modalities in our brain: as our experience, as our understanding and as our memory of a situation in external reality. Second, it turns out that this trichotomy also exists if we look at the communicative setting: here we find the speaker with his or her experience of the situation, the hearer with his or her experience and memory, and the situation as such as it is shared by the speaker and the hearer. Since the speaker and the hearer must agree upon a common voice, they choose among the three different modalities of existence and we arrive at reality-oriented languages as Russian based on speaker’s and hearer’s common understanding of the situation, speaker-oriented languages as Chinese and hearer-oriented languages as English.

Russian describes situations in external and internal reality – it is third person-oriented; Chinese is oriented towards the speaker’s experiences – it is first person-oriented; and English gives information to the hearer – it is second person-oriented

‘I have been using purely linguistic analyses showing that there are different determining categories in the three communicative supertypes’, says Professor Durst-Andersen. ‘In Russian it is the category of aspect that has animacy as its nominal counterpart; in Chinese it is the category of mood in the shape of sentence final particles that has classifiers as its nominal counterpart, and in English it is the category of tense that has the category of articles as its nominal counterpart. Moreover, I have made contrastive analyses of how people with various mother tongues communicate in exactly the same situations and have collected a big corpus of English data produced by business people and students from England, Denmark, Japan, China and Russia. The most striking is that the three supertypes behave very differently in all cases’.

Russian: a reality-oriented language

Professor Durst-Andersen’s second lecture, ‘Russian as a reality-oriented language with a sharp distinction between external and internal reality’, focused on various verbal and nominal categories of Russian and how they are tied together to form a complete whole.

 Russian is a very rich language with many complicated verbal and nominal categories combined with a syntax that is very different from the one we know from, for instance, English

As a specific communicative supertype oriented towards situations in primarily external reality, the verb and its lexical-semantic classes (state verbs, activity verbs and action verbs) and grammatical categories (such as aspect) are of primary importance. States are divided into location and possession (external reality) as well as experience and quality (internal reality) and it is demonstrated that this distinction is signalled by existential byt’ and copular byt’, respectively, and that verbs can only speak with the voice of external reality, while adjectives can only speak with the voice of internal reality. This is a peculiarity of Russian.

‘Russian is a very rich language with many complicated verbal and nominal categories combined with a syntax that is very different from the one we know from, for instance, English’, says Professor Durst-Andersen on the challenges involved in researching and learning Russian.

Language & culture

Professor Durst-Anderson’s third lecture, ‘Language and culture. Their influence on perception, cognition, action/interaction and communication’, focused on the need to find a so-called tertium comparationis, i.e., a third entity to which language and culture can be compared. Professor Durst-Anderson argues that perception, cognition, action/interaction and communication together make up this so-called third entity.

‘It is easy to see that both language and culture may influence how as human beings we perceive, cognize, act/interact and communicate in the society we live in, but in which areas and exactly in which way do language and culture apply their influence?’ he asks. ‘I examine all four areas incorporating experimental evidence, as well as other pieces of external and internal evidence and attempt to demonstrate the specific role of culture and the specific role of language in each area – societal logic, problem solving, conflict resolution, and pedagogical culture. The conclusion is that since both culture and language influence all four areas, their effect on human beings is twice as big as could be expected’.

Misperceptions of globalization

Perhaps one of Professor Durst-Anderson’s most surprising arguments concerns his view that our globalized world has created a misconception among business people in the West, which is that in the very near future all people will speak English and that this will mean the end of all communication problems.

‘My research shows that what is called Global English is in fact comprised of Russian English, Danish English, Japanese English, Chinese English and Spanish English being all different languages’, he says. ‘In short, characteristics from people’s mother tongue lexicon and from their ways in which they communicate in their mother tongue are transferred to English. But the problem is now hidden: people think that they speak the same language with the consequence that misunderstandings are either never found out or are found out when it is too late’.

Multilingual and multicultural organizations actually experience communication challenges as people try to find a common language, which need not be their mother tongue. This can cause cultural problems because people from different countries use their own societal logic and act and interact without being aware of the fact that other people are used to something quite different.

People think that they speak the same language with the consequence that misunderstandings are either never found out or are found out when it is too late

Part of this difficult is also related to the rise of social media and the resulting changes in the languages of the world. ‘I see loan words from English, but they are not borrowed into the languages in question with the exact meaning from English, but are accommodated to their specific lexical systems’, Professor Durst-Anderson says. ‘In the same way, although one uses the same social media in two cultures, the rules you apply are not the same. But there is a common denominator: when people use social media, they use oral language, and this affects their written language in other more public contexts’.

A positive impression

Following a busy week of lectures, Professor Durst-Anderson noted his positive impressions of both HSE and Moscow more generally.

‘It was my impression that the students were capable of following my line of argumentation’, he said following the lectures. ‘I found the discussion interesting, but this is always the case in Russia – people are engaged. I would wish that other countries could learn from that. HSE gave me a very good impression. Not only are the students at a very high level, but it is also evident where they have it from: their teachers. I was amazed to learn that HSE has existed for only a quarter of a century. It is my sincere hope that we can continue our cooperation’.

And as for the city?

‘I love Moscow and its intensity!’ he says.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

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