Communication Styles

Compare and contrast the communication style of American Indians, Israelis, and Black Americans based on readings, include why they choose to communicate in certain ways.

Being a part of community is vital to interaction between societies of every background.  In this essay we will consider some of the ways American Indians, Israelis, and Black Americans retain their sense of community between those who belong to those communities and exclude those who do not belong within their communities.

American Indians have a communication style that is much more subdued and subtle than that of Israelis and Black Americans.  According to D. Lawrence Wieder and Steven Pratt’s article, “On Being a Recognizable Indian Among Indians”, real Indians are noted for their reservedness, surface agreeability, and silent humility.  They seldom promote themselves and are constantly considering what they do in light of the fact that they may loose their “real Indian” status if they do something that is un-Indian.  American Indians maintain a surface image of respect and agreement (whether or not they agree or hold respect) through their reserved image.  Despite the difference between the vocal Israelis and the reserved American Indians there are similarities:  The Israelis gripe extensively but not in front of outsiders or someone directly responsible for the situation because it would appear as complaining in that context (Katriel, Tamar, “‘Griping’ as a Verbal Ritual in Some Israeli Discourse” p. 108).  In the same way, American Indians feel it is un-Indian to hold face-to-face verbal confrontations.  Yet, they will speak about others behind their backs and do not consider this to be unbecoming of an Indian (Wieder and Pratt, p. 56).

The vocality of Israeli ritual griping and the call-respond style in conversation and public speaking of Black Americans is in strong contrast to the value American Indians hold about silence.  American Indians show respect and even a community identity through silence and listening.  American Indians consider silence as a sign of friendship and acceptance rather than a sign of disagreement (Wieder and Pratt, p. 59).  According to  Jack L. Daniel and Geneva Smitherman’s article “How I Got Over: Communication Dynamics in the Black Community”, vocal responses to a speaker in Black American communication are necessary to express agreement and show a knowledge and understanding of African roots, heritage, and style.  Although the resources I have at hand do not address silence in Black American conversation, I suggest that if people attending a church service or joining in a conversation do not giving any verbal response, they would be considered in opposition to the speaker just because they did not give a verbal response.  American Indians, however, are considered un-Indian, rude, and out of place if they ask questions rather than just listen attentively by silently avoiding eye contact with the speaker (Wieder and Pratt, p. 60).  In contrast to the public responses given by Black Americans in church services, an American Indian who addresses a public gathering when they are not old enough or a female would be considered offensive (Wieder and Pratt, p. 62).

Since each community has its own characteristics of communication styles, members of those communities are watching for people who infiltrate the community and are not truly of the community because they have not yet learned the conversation styles.  In American Indian cultures these outsiders may feel accepted on the surface because the non-confrontational Indians will be agreeable enough, but, in their absence, the real Indians will tend to talk about how that person is obviously not really an Indian (Wieder and Pratt, p. 56).  This rejection can also occur with someone who was formally a part of the community but has discarded aspects of the requirements to be in that community: communication styles, familial responsibilities, or sense of community (Wieder and Pratt, p. 58).  Along the same lines, Israelis will immediately stop their ritual griping when they are aware that outsiders are in their midst.  The Israelis who know the context of griping are aware that the outsider will think of their griping to be considered slander while the speakers are using the griping to relieve frustrations.  The insiders understand that “griping should not be taken at face value . . . [because] it is by no means a reflection of reality” (Katriel, p. 107).  Black American communication when considering call and response is a matter of timing.  If an outsider were to try and shout a response back with the others, I think the Blacks would be able to take note that this person was not one of them because of timing even if they said the right words.  It is similar to a Protestant attending a Catholic service and trying to respond correctly during the Mass.  Those nearby will probably be able to tell they are not used to the format of the Mass nor in the correct timing and rhythm of the responses.

American Indian, Black American, and Israeli communication patterns discussed in this essay are, in many ways, related to their religion and historical background.  Israelis are known for griping from the times of the patriarchs when Joseph’s brothers’ complained against him, to their wandering in the wilderness, to examples from the play “Fiddler on the Roof” in which the lead character complains to God about being a poor man.  He asks “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”  Black Americans can trace their call-response styles–used in religious services and in secular speech–to an underlying tradition.  Researchers have found common patterns in the various African attitudes and thought across Africa and even in decedents spread around the world (Daniel and Smitherman, p. 29).  The American Indians base much of their communication on learning about the other person through observation and experiences rather than on conversation.  When conversation does occur it is after a nonverbal relationship and understanding has been established that shows proper respect to each other.  For each culture, communication styles have become a part of their heritage.  If they leave these styles, they also leave a portion of their heritage.


This is Part 2 of my final exam for a sociolinguists class at ORU from about 1999. See Part 1 and Part 3