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Expressing emotions in intercultural interactions
The recipe to successful intercultural interactions is complicated, but add the expression of emotion (or lack thereof) to this mix, and you end up with an even more challenging ‘recipe’. A lack of emotional involvement in social interactions can be misleading and especially misunderstood in an intercultural setting where interactants bring with them different sociolinguistic and cultural knowledge.
Based on the view that emotions are universally expressed (Ekman, 1972, 2017), one can infer foreign language learners can naturally recognize and express emotions across languages and cultures. However, this may not always be the case, especially if we view emotions as being socially constructed (Barrett, 2012, 2017). When it comes to verbal expression of emotion, one can also assume that it is being constructed in the place of a social interaction, with its meanings being negotiated and interpreted based on interactants’ existent knowledge (pragmatic and sociolinguistic). From numerous informal classroom discussions and observations, I inferred that Japanese English learners avoid the display of emotion in public and prefer to mostly remain neutral in their reactions, both verbal and nonverbal, but are more open to do otherwise when interacting in small groups. Similar observations were made when Japanese English learners participated in intercultural exchanges with international students from various cultural backgrounds. In comparison to the international students participating in the exchanges, Japanese English learners’ interactions seemed flat, lacking the expression of emotion, be it positive (engagement) or negative (resistance). Thus, this presentation will discuss the idea that we all possess an “emotive capacity” (Caffi & Janney, 1994) in our native languages, therefore acquiring a new one when learning a foreign language should be expected. The acquired “emotive capacity” should help us adjust and/or adapt our verbal expression of emotion when interacting with people from various cultural backgrounds.