Language, Symbols and Cross-Cultural Communication

The study of language and communication began through the European tradition of linguistics. Since anthropologists were more concerned by the diverse languages that existed, they started studying the relationship between language and cognition as well as language and behavior. Through this, the fields of ethnolinguistics and sociolinguistics were formed. Ferdinand de Saussure determined that the relationship between spoken words and the mental image is an arbitrary one (Rynkiewich, 2012). Only when the speaker and listener are both members of the same linguistic community will the spoken words and mental image be the same. Therefore, communication is more than just a process of information transfer from one person to the other. It is a project that entails constructing meaning from a dialogue between a speaker and a listener, deconstructing the meaning, and later building it up again.

Languages originate with modifications from an early dialect that is considered to be original. They have a history as such; when compared, some are almost the same as others (Rynkiewich, 2012). In addition to this, another subject of linguistic interest is the relationship between language and cognition or thought. The structure of a dialect affects the structure of people’s cognition. This means that dialect and language learning shapes the brain’s structure, thus affecting an individual’s way of thinking and discourse. Language brings together specific perceptions and experiences that would not be naturally linked together if not for the linguistic concepts an individual uses.

However, speaking is not the only way individuals communicate, as one can use facial expressions and body language. This does not mean that an individual can only communicate through expressions, as one has to learn the language in order to pass information to a new linguistic community. For example, in order to minister or communicate the gospel to people from a different linguistic community or a different generation, one has to learn the language. The problem is that language learning is quite difficult for adults compared to children. Children have been observed to learn a new language quicker and simpler. This not only applies to language but also to the problem of new categories of wider experience. Thus, supporting the claim that linguistic categories help in shaping people’s reality. Communication involves several assumptions about shared understandings of history and what makes an appropriate conversation, among other things.

Another issue is that it is hard for a person visiting a new society to read the body gestures and facial expressions, making it hard for them to fully understand what is being said. Therefore, for the constructivist communication project to take place, there also has to be a long-term relationship between the evangelist and the people. Since Jesus took more than 30 years to learn the language and develop relationships in society, he was capable of communicating very well with the people. But looking at Paul in the bible, he goes to places where there are Jews and Greeks as he knows their languages well (both Aramaic and Greek) (Rynkiewich, 2012). However, when he goes to cities that depend on Lycaonian more, Paul experiences a lot of miscommunication and gets into trouble. This does not mean that communication is limited to the language since it is a combination of both words and works that yields communication. As it is in the case of both Jesus and Paul, their words are accompanied by their demonstration of the good news.


Rynkiewich, M. (2012). Soul, self, and society: A postmodern anthropology for mission in a postcolonial world. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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