Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

<< Interkulturelle und soziolingustische Aspekte der Subsprachen | Cross-Cultural and Socio-Linguistic Aspects of Sub Languages

Olga V. Viktorova (Moskau): National character in cross-cultural business communication

Olga V. Viktorova (Moskau): National character in cross-cultural business communication



Nowadays, it has become obvious that humanity is going along the way of developing and strengthening connections between countries, peoples, and cultures. The process has involved various spheres of public life worldwide. There is no ethnic community which hasn’t experienced the outside influence and tendency towards cross-cultural contacts is undoubtedly growing.

These changes also concern Russia. The reforms have radically altered the image of Russia. New social groups, such as businessmen, bankers, politicians and etc have appeared. An absolutely new type of business culture is being formed. People are gradually acquiring social responsibility awareness. Life of the whole society is changing.

The expanding of trade and economic relations between East and West has resulted in an increasing number of people doing business internationally. For effective work they have to take into account characteristic features of their partners’ cultures. They also can’t fail to notice the differences in household, food, and in attitudes to people and business.

As participants of cross-cultural relations, individuals come across contrasting cultures. Differences in language, national cuisine, clothes, norms of behaviour, treatment of work responsibilities can cause cultural clashes. However, the roots of cross-cultural clashes are beyond visible distinctions. They lie in a different attitude to the whole world and other people. To overcome misunderstandings, people should realize that they tend to perceive other cultures through their own. Thus, their observations are restricted by the native culture. It is difficult to grasp the meaning of words and actions which are not characteristic of their culture. Ethnocentrism not only prevents cross-cultural communication but, being unconscious, is difficult to be identified. Hence it can be concluded that effective communication is impossible without examining such basic components as national character and mentality, i.e. national logic of world perception and assessment.

The famous philologist G.Gachev emphasized the importance of discovering a tool that would enable a person belonging to a different culture to look a t the world from a new point of view - a net with which a nation "catches" the world and rebuilds it in their minds. He stated that in communication people often run against the wall which prevents understanding. The same words and phrases are pronounced, but different things are meant by them. However, the biggest problem is that people are not aware of it. In order to bring this seeming understanding to faultless one, a communicant should take into consideration national and historical system of concepts and values, i.e. realize that other nations see the world differently. How can this be done? What does it depend on? The answers to these questions could encourage contacts between peoples and cultures.

The above mentioned "net to catch the world" or so to say "glasses through which representatives of a culture look at the world and, thanks to which, they see only certain things and in a certain way is evidently a national mentality which is captured in the national language.

Language is an integral and important part of any national culture. This connection has been repeatedly stated in works of Sepir, Whorf, Lakoff, Wierzbicka and other famous linguists. According to Russian linguist A.Ufimtseva, language not only captures and conveys values, mood, and assessments existing in a definite ethnic community at a definite historic period, but it also preserves the eternal dominating values. In Shmelev’s opinion, language conveys the features of extra linguistic reality that are relevant for speakers, and, at the same time, they start to see the world through their language, they adopt the conceptual system characteristic of this culture. Therefore, words conveying linguistically specific concepts both express and form speakers’ way of thinking. The conceptual system is represented in the linguistic picture of the world specific for a definite culture. The linguistic picture of the world includes total knowledge of the world fixed in lexis, phraseology, and grammar.

"Ours" and "cuzoi" images are a part of the linguistic picture of the world which can be reconstructed with the help of linguistic data and stereotypes represented in culture. Hence according to our theme we consider it important first to characterize business culture in Russia and then look for linguistic facts to illustrate and confirm the specific features of national character.

G. Hofstede has introduced one of the most effective technique for analyzing business cultures with the help of figures. Russian researchers applied this method to characterize Russian business culture.

It should be kept in mind that business culture model includes the following characteristics:

  • Power distance shows if people who have no or little power agree that power within society is evenly distributed.
  • Collectivism/individualism . Individualism characterizes the society in which the connection between individuals is loose. Everyone is supposed to look after themselves and their families. Collectivism is the type of society where people since their childhood grow in close-knit communities. These communities take care and protect their people all their lives and get unconditional loyalty in return.
  • Femininity/masculinity . Masculinity is a typical feature of a society where roles of men and women are clearly divided. Men are ambitious, aggressive, and aim for financial success and achievements outside the family. Women are shy, delicate and provide domestic and moral comfort inside the family. Femininity is a feature of a society where the distinction of roles is irrelevant as both men and women aim for financial success and comfortable environment inside the family.
  • Avoidance of uncertainty . It is the extent of discomfort, anxiety, and fear which people feel in unknown or uncertain circumstances.

The characteristics for several countries are given in table 1.

Table 1


power distance

uncertainty avoidance











































The Netherlands





Great Britain




















Now we’ll examine the figures that characterize business culture in Russia.

The "uncertainty avoidance" characteristic amounts to 40. This indicates the fact that the degree of discomfort or fear of uncertain circumstances for Russian business people has decreased. Most businessmen and managers consider work in situations with undefined rules and results normal. They feel less need in the complete set of rules, specifying the activities.

The result can be explained by the following. Firstly, economics has become stronger, and it obviously increases responsibility of every individual in solving their problems, especially economical, allows more independence, and, accordingly, leads to more uncertainty in life.

Secondly, for the last 15 years the conditions of business activities so frequently and suddenly changed that uncertain environment has become natural for young Russian businessmen, who have made their careers at that time.

The second characteristic of business culture that has noticeably changed is "masculinity/femininity". The figure for masculinity has fallen to 47. This can be explained by the rise of women’s role in modern Russian business. Women with their own business or working as executive managers have to approximate their behaviour to men’s in order to achieve success. On the one hand, this leaves less internal resources to perform typical women’s responsibilities and on the other hand, it forces men to accept them. It results in indistinct roles of men and women.

The figure of collectivism degree evidently emphasizes its significance for Russian national perception. In business environment it means that relations between people are more important than business itself. The decisions are made after extensive discussions in meetings or commissions. Peaceful atmosphere at work and a tendency to collective results are encouraged inside the company.

The average figure for "power distance" proves the fact that Russian businessmen consider company hierarchy to be a useful managerial instrument, which, if the necessity may arise, can be neglected. Managers of all levels are accessible, even for employers belonging to lower levels. The discussion of the problem is collective, but the decision is made by the executive. The number of instructions and regulations is not excessive. The independence in choosing the methods of work is encouraged.

These characteristics are extremely important in the context of cross-cultural analysis as they convey dominating values of the ethnic group and specific qualities of its mentality. However, the size of this work doesn’t allow detailed analysis of linguistic representation of all above mentioned features. Therefore, we will analyze the linguistic data, illustrating the attitude to uncertainty.

It is specific for Russian perception to share the opinion that future is uncertain, the outcome of events cannot be predicted, and a person ought to find as many ways as possible to secure themselves, to foresee in every detail what course the event will take and at the same time not being quite sure of positive outcome.

Accordingly in Russian linguistic picture of the world the aforesaid opinion is expressed in the semantic component of "destiny", implying a mysterious power that controls everything that happens or the fated character of events.

The frequency of usage of the word "destiny" in Russian discourse, which is much higher than in European languages, reflects the importance of this concept in the world picture.

There are several traditional contexts with the word "destiny". These subject-predicate groups picture "destiny" as an active strong power, creating new situations. Destiny can bring you to a place, make you meet new people, bring you apart with those you love, give a present, play a trick on you, send you around the world with no particular reason, make fun of you, protect you, limit your lifetime. It is a mighty ruling and unpredictable power. The typical usage of these collocations and other words conveying the same concept is an answer to the question about the causes of events. It means that neither a person nor their efforts can determine the outcome of events but some supreme powers. They predetermine all the events in people’s lives. The word "destiny" is semantically connected with the idea of determination of events, such as predetermination, providence, fate, inevitability.

In Russian the same idea can be expressed by relative pronouns. The relative pronoun " какой - то " (Eng.: "kind of") is often included into an idiomatic group as it denotes the feature that cannot be either identified or logically explained. The following phrases: "kind of complicated business", "I feel kind of uneasy", "can’t get it kind of right", "it is kind of mistake", indicate that there is a certain reason that causes unpredictable development of events or spoils plans. Such development can be understood as a natural course of events or as an element breaking the routine. "No one can say that he was busy farming, he never went to the fields, it went on kind of on its own". "In town he had lunch, walked in the garden, then, he kind of arrived at the idea to invite Ivan Petrovich".

The role of chance is determinant for Russian mentality. The statements about the events in which a person is involved without their knowledge or despite their will contain relative pronouns. In colloquial language the answer to the question "Why did you do it?", "How could you do it?" is often "don’t know, it happened somehow". "I’ve wanted to talk to him, but somehow had no chance". Thus, the mysterious reason or "chance" is something you can hope for, be afraid of, but can’t foresee and therefore avoided.

The following lexical units, the semantics of which conveys unpredictable and inexplicable real life events: inconceivable; incomprehensible, inscrutable, incredible; unbelievable, mysterious; enigmatic, secretive, strange, odd, queer, etc are very characteristic for Russian linguistic picture of the world. Relative pronouns represent unspoken or inexpressible semantic components, undisclosed reasons of events, vague motives of behavior, and mysterious powers in action.

In the English language there are lexical expressive means for the idea of uncertainty: "It happened so that she learned about it only several years later", "Do you happen to know it?" However, in comparison with Russian the semantics of the word "happen" is not so extensive and doesn’t imply the influence of inexplicable events on the person’s behaviour.

As the word "destiny" and its semantic equivalents are so frequently used in oral or written speech, some researchers make conclusion that Russians tend to be mystical, fatalistic and passive. According to A.Shmelev, this conclusion is rather exaggerated. Most contextual occurrences of this word in modern discourse don’t imply these qualities. For example, "destiny is in our hands", "we are masters of our destiny". It is obvious that the concept "destiny" is specific for the Russian language as it unites two crucial ideas of Russian linguistic picture of the world: the idea of unpredictability of the future and the idea of person’s lack of control over events in their life.

In conclusion we would stress that acquaintance with any culture implies the study of historical, economical, and other material aspects of it as well as an effort to penetrate into nation’s mentality through study of linguistic picture of this nation.

Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-21