Bart Vandenabeele
University of Ghent
Drawing on anthropological examples of first contacts between people from different cultures, I argue that non-verbal communication plays a far bigger part in intercultural communication than has been acknowledged in the literature so far. Communication rests on mutually attuning in a large number of judgements. Some sort of structuring principle is needed at this point, and Davidson's principle of charity is a good candidate, provided sufficient attention is given to non-verbal communication. There will always be more and less successful interpretations and translations, and their success will depend on the success of the non-verbal communication at hand. There is no need for cognitive or semantic universals: people understand each other because they share (a) certain form(s) of life. How ever, it is incorrect to treat forms of life as rigid entities with clear boundaries: it is both impossible and unnecessary to determine them in an exact way. Any appeal to cognitive or cultural essences to explain how people communicate successfully is flawed. My critique of essentialism is not a defence of linguistic ‘anything goes' relativism whatsoever. Assumptions underwriting a relativist stance often wrongly issue, in a decidedly non-relativist confidence in one fixed set of categories, values or meanings. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.21(2) 2002: 85-96
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DOI 10.4314/sajpem.v21i2.31337
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