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Interculturality includes not only living physically together, but also sharing a culture; having concordant cognitive, affective, and operative axes. Those are the three main components of semantic and pragmatic expression. According to communication science:

  • World-visions correspond to the set of beliefs on nature and purpose of life.
  • The norms related to beliefs and public behavior are what constitute a “good person” in a particular context.
  • Groups adopt codes, or sets of verbal and nonverbal systems of communication, to determine their actions and behaviors.

Using these factors one can draw up a continuous degree of interculturality which would make it possible to relate and to maintain a common scope of participation and encounters, always respecting the group’s independence.

Language as an expression of stereotype and social cataloguing

Stereotypes and prejudices are conditions previous to discriminatory actions. The stereotype is a cognitive structure, which contains concepts, beliefs, feelings, and expectations of a determined group. By finding salient and common characteristics among members of a group, stereotypes simplify, facilitate, and speed up references to that group’s reality, thereby regulating strictly individual characteristics. An example would be to consider all Moroccans as aggressive if one is seen acting as such, without ulterior investigation or taking into account the circumstances of the given situation.

The selected characteristics are attributed in a hereditary way in which an individual can be identified in this category. This alleviates the burden of having to prove the opposite of that individual. Such pre-judgment catalogues an individual in case the person of the other group lacks the proper experience necessary to evaluate the person. When associations of a quality or conduct with a determined category of people are established, those associations convert into permanent verbal labels, in order to simplify the judgment process. These terms pre-judgment and prejudice, sometimes used indifferently, have in common that they are engendered due to a lack of previous contact with the discriminated group. Pre-judgment is modifiable, whereas prejudice displays much more resistance to change.

Language is the vehicle for cataloguing, stereotype, and prejudice, while at the same time it also serves as communication with others. It becomes a symbol for the cognitive and affective orientation that condenses the ethos, (customs), logos (thought), pathos (feelings), and elpís (expected behavior of someone else). Verbal insult is the most frequent form of aggression. According to studies, native and foreign students equally exchange insults. The violent forms of speaking are very diverse. Attempts to mark differences that do not exist, like the expressions: “they are different, aggressive, violent, abnormal, and behind; they do not care about studying, do not look like us,” etc., also constitute violent speech. Other insults follow: “they are dirty, filthy, treacherous, ugly, and illiterate; they are rapists, loafers, onlookers, dealers,” etc. Finally, certain crimes are attributed to different groups: “Colombians are dealers, Black women are sluts, Moroccans are terrorists, Moors are treacherous, Eastern Europeans are mobsters, Blacks carry diseases, gypsies traffic drugs,” etc. This immediately opens a passage for violence.

Ideas, words, and attitudes act as the diverse layers of an onion; they form, support, and protect each other, creating a unit difficult to eradicate. Some words like Nazi, gypsy, red, and Moor, are converted into stereotypes which carry great emotional loads, creating responses of phobias and prejudice that are very difficult to transform. It is as Einstein said; an atom can be destroyed easier than prejudice.

The use of one’s own language as self-defense

The use of one’s own language turns into a chaos of self-defense among those that know it. They use it against those who do not, which greatly irritates them and leads them to believe they are always saying something bad about them. This is how a language becomes a barrier of protection, incapable of being jumped over by those who do not know it. This makes the natives very angry due to their feeling of ownership of the territory. Just the mere fact of using another language is seen as profanity. Logically, this discomfort increases with accusations from the natives who complain that the natives do not accept their customs, which takes away their identity.

Let us see some frequent expressions and testimonies of Spaniard students faced with classmates who speak to them in a foreign language. The question to which these students responded is: “What is it that bothers you the most about foreigners?”

“They insult us without our knowing it. They start fights. They insult us in their language. They are always speaking in Arab and we cannot understand a word. They say words in Moroccan and are probably insulting us. They take advantage that we do not know their language. They use big words in their language. I do not like that they use their language in Spain. They speak and I move away. They immediately learn to insult in Spanish. When they speak in their language I feel like they insult me. They are talking about you and you do not know what they are saying. They speak in their language to isolate themselves. They can say anything. When they feel like it, they pretend like they do not understand what you are saying they can be calling you all sorts of names. They teach you insults in Moroccan. You never know if they are insulting or complementing you when they speak in their language. They can be using big words. Maybe they are insulting. They always speak in their language when they fight. What are they saying? That bothers us a lot. All they learn in Spanish are insults. You hear them speak their language and get nothing out of it.”

This attitude is more irritating when they know Spanish, yet they do not use it. This conduct is quite natural, but it gives an opportunity to think badly of them, or at least, places those who do not know the language in a very uncomfortable position, isolated, with negative expectations.

José Luis Calvo Buezas is a professor at the Institute of Secondary Education, Oviedo (Asturias), Spain.

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Source:  OpenStax, Immigration in the united states and spain: considerations for educational leaders. OpenStax CNX. Jul 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11174/1.28
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