On the difficulties of cross-cultural communication

I speak English. But I speak a certain type of American English. I’m brown. But my culture is American.

On a blog like this, these structural problems give rise to particular issues. I actually saw it on the old Sepia Mutiny blog first. Indian English is a distinct dialect not only in accent and lexicon but also in idiosyncrasies in its idioms.

When we speak and write to the audience of this weblog, Indian and American (or British) audiences may actually infer different implications of the things we say. The easiest way to illustrate this is the use of the word “secularist.” The word is rich and pregnant with connotation and association for the Indian audience, but not so much for the American one, where it denotes something clear, distinct, and delimited. For the Indian audience, I avoid using the word “secularist” and “secular”, because I don’t want to get involved in a stupid argument that I have a marginal investment in.

I really can’t fix this issue of semiotics and linguistics. Sometimes confusions will ensue, and I will point out the reason.

But, there are two problems with some Indian commenters of this weblog that I want to highlight:

  1. Throwing up a “wall of text” in lieu of a concise argument.
  2. Obvious bad-faith posturing.

On my posts, if you engage in this behavior I may just delete your comments without warning. Those of you who have engaged in #2, I know exactly who you are, and I may delete your comments without warning too. Talking with a friend who is Indian but not raised in the United States, it could simply be that this behavior is taken for granted as normal by Indians (Hindu nationalist repurposing of SJW talking points without any shame suggests to me that this may be the case). That’s fine. But not on my posts.

I am not going to manage the posts of others. So perhaps my posts will become deserts of commentary. I am at peace with that.

19 thoughts on “On the difficulties of cross-cultural communication”

  1. FWIW, I want to commend you for the efforts you make to put appropriate boundaries on commentary that keep them constructive and informative, rather than turning into the cesspools that you see, e.g., in the comment threads of online newspaper articles.

    The fact that your comment threads are sufficiently clean that it is possible to focus on issues 1 and 2 above, when most moderators struggle just to keep out obvious spam, personal attacks, and all caps profanity filled ranting, before even getting to the kinds of second order poor conduct you call out in this post, should also be considered a badge of honor.

    I also commend you for recognizing that some of this arises from cultural differences in communications styles rather than ill will. I come up with a lot of similar issues when trying to help people with Middle Eastern backgrounds work their way through business and legal disputes in the U.S. where there are very different norms about the manner in which negotiations are conducted and disputes are discussed. (A colleague and I once had to bodily lift our client out of a courtroom, fortunately he was a slim guy, to keep him from being thrown in jail for contempt of court because he was trying to act in that proceeding the way that one would in a Middle Eastern business negotiation between equals, even though he didn’t actually disrespect the judge or the process even though it was coming across that way to the judge.)

  2. My posts get long since i want my points to be as clear as possible. I hope you don’t find my posts “wall of text & bad faith posturing”.

    I want to clearly bring out my points since they reflect my understanding & i also share sources so that one can check them & compare them to my arguments.

    I am no Geneticist so i accept your position regarding genetic data but i need to debate caste when you use it without acknowledging multiple aspects related to it.

    It gets used, discussed & debated all over the world with too many blind-spots. For e.g. Using a name of same community does not ascribe similar social status in different region.
    If you are familiar with Legal language –

    1. in general, i would wish you were more concise, though you are not a major offender.

      your posts don’t show bad-faith tho. i know that when i see it 🙂

      here is an example of what i mean by bad faith from a real example (an indian):

      razib: something about religion
      indian: you can’t talk about religion, you are biased, you are an atheist

      the bad faith here is that religious people are biased too. the stupidity here is so naked and plain that i think it’s just assumed that you will engage in this sort of behavior? also, hindutva ppl sometimes use straight SJW talking points with no shame or attempt to mask them.

      1. // i would wish you were more concise //

        I wish that too but to explain a prevalent problem i have to first explain it as it is commonly understood or mentioned & then share my point of view with sources which makes my posts long.

        // your posts don’t show bad-faith tho. i know that when i see it //

        Glad to know this 🙂

      2. @Razib- While I almost never visit these parts of the interwebs, I too am very curious about “hindutva ppl sometimes use straight SJW talking points with no shame or attempt to mask them.” (call it a masochistic desire for facing the embarrassing truth about my low-mean-intellect compatriots) Can you provide a few examples?

        1. all “bad things” came to india from muslims and british. but when they are trying to really make a big hit that is cross-cultural they focus on the british since it appeals to subalternists and how they destroyed the idyll that was india. but the reality is that a lot of these people, like me, take for granted that a certain type of hierarchical organic and conservative society is probably natural and optimal (unlike the SJWs who want some fantasy-land utopia of egalitarianism).

          1. I see – they make their claim that “bad things” came to india from british/ muslims *while transparently posing as if they are SJWs who actually want some fantasy-land utopia of egalitarianism*? And such posturing is the irritant?

            [waste of time. i’d rather argue about real stuff instead of trying to “win on points”]

      1. A bit confused – Is the above comment (which reads “[NO, YOU’RE A LYING ASSHOLE]”) an edit by @razib or was it from the original commenter?

  3. And of course the irony that was totally lost was that to suggest that Indians have a higher propensity for bad faith arguments is a bad faith argument in itself.

      1. why the fuck are you using quotations? no one said “saying untruth.”

        here’s another pet peeve: if you use quotations, ACTUALLY FUCKING QUOTE SOMETHING AND DON’T MAKE UP A PARAPHRASE.

    1. Arguing that an argument that Indians argue in bad faith is also arguing in bad faith. So, really, all the terms just cancel out and we are left with Indians arguing in bad faith.

  4. what the fuck are you talking about?


    “Bad faith (Latin: mala fides) is double mindedness or double heartedness in duplicity, fraud, or deception.[1] It may involve intentional deceit of others, or self-deception.”

    straight out saying that indians on average engage in a certain type of behavior is deceptive? are you fucking kidding me, i just came out and said what the generalization was. i didn’t hide the observation.

    you may say the stereotype is not founded, but it’s not bad faith. i admitted what i’ve seen.

    are you stupid, or just liars?

  5. Previously I made the exact argument you just did. Quote marks can be used for term definitions (in this case a wrong one, which Charmer seemed to be assuming).

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