Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Communication and Literature: Elif Shafak, the Bastard of Istanbul

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Communication and Literature: Elif Shafak, the Bastard of Istanbul

Article excerpt

I am more interested in showing the things we have

in common as fellow human beings, sharing the same

planet and ultimately, the same sorrows and joys rather

than adding yet another brick in the imaginary walls

erected between cultures/religions/ethnicities.

Elif Shafak

1 Introduction

The role and place of intercultural communication in our world can be emphasized not only through specialized research and observation of target groups but also through literary works. I totally agree with the Romanian historian Neagu Djuvara1 who once stated in an interview that sometimes literary works can render or explain a historical period in a much illustrative way than a scientific demonstration. Obviously, this confrontation depends upon the encyclopaedic competence of the person engaged in the 'observation'.

Marked by the entanglement between her writing talent and her formation (she followed studies in International Relations), Elif Shafak offers to the public novels capable to bridge the gap between close or distant cultures and civilizations.

The subjects of her novels, coming from past and present, as well as from different cultures may be particularly revealing in the study of intercultural communication. For the present analysis, from her ten books translated into more than thirty languages, I have chosen the sixth, The Bastard of Istanbul, published in 2006 in Turkey and in 2007 in England although it was first written in English (in fact her second novel written in English)2.

My analysis is based on the iceberg's metaphor and the intercultural values resulting from the encounter between the visible and the invisible parts of three different cultures in an attempt to show that through this type of confrontation one can keep his/ her cultural identity without entering in conflict.

2 Theoretical grounds

The present research is mainly forged on definitions and concepts taken from Stella Ting-Toomey's Communicating across cultures (1999), as well as from Florence Kuckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck's (1961) value orientation method.

According to Ting-Toomey, intercultural communication represents "the symbolic exchange process whereby individuals from two (or more) different cultural communities negotiate shared meanings in an interactive situation . The major characteristics of this definition include the following concepts: symbolic exchange, process, different cultural communities, negotiate shared meanings, and an interactive situation." (1999: 16-17)

In other words, the constituent elements of this definition are: two persons (or two groups) of different cultures (a very broad definition of culture), in interaction, negotiating a common signifier (country, identity, family, language, spirituality). Stella Ting-Toomey defines culture as a complex frame of reference

that consists of patterns of traditions, beliefs, values, norms symbols, and meanings that are shared to varying degrees by interacting members of a community. [...]

Culture is like an iceberg: the deeper layers (e.g. traditions; beliefs, values) are hidden from our view; we only hear and see the uppermost layers of cultural artefacts (e.g., fashion, trends, pop music) and of verbal and nonverbal symbols. However, to understand a culture with any depth, we have to match its underlying values accurately with its respective norms, meanings, and symbols. It is the underlying set of beliefs and values that drives people's thinking, reacting, and behaving. Furthermore, to understand commonalities between individuals and groups, we have to dig deeper into the level of universal human needs (such as safety; security, inclusion, dignity/respect, control, connection, meaning, creativity, and a sense of wellbeing). (Ting-Toomey 1999: 10)

When two icebergs meet we are talking about intercultural communication. The question is how one of the icebergs is perceiving perceives the other. On which grounds is one founding his perceptions and interpretations since such an important part of the other is invisible? …

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