Asian American Ethnicity and Communication

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William B. Gudykunst

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    List of Tables and Figures

    List of Figures
    • 2.1 The Influence of Cultural Individualism-Collectivism on Communication 27
    List of Tables
    • 2.1 Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures 37
    • 2.2 Low and High Uncertainty Avoidance Cultures 42
    • 2.3 Low and High Power Distance Cultures 44
    • 2.4 Masculine and Feminine Cultures 47
    • 3.1 Asian American Immigration Patterns for Selected Years 58
    • 3.2 Asian American Population in the United States for Selected Years 58
    • 3.3 Individualistic and Collectivistic Tendencies by Ethnicity 86
    • 3.4 Individualistic and Collectivistic Tendencies by Where Asian Americans Are Born and the Language Spoken at Home When They Were Children 87
    • 4.1 Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities by Ethnicity 98
    • 4.2 Individualistic and Collectivistic Tendencies and Language Usage by Ethnic/Cultural Identity Type 115
    • 4.3 Individualistic and Collectivistic Tendencies and Language Usage by Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities 116
    • 4.4 Generation and Language Usage of Children, Adolescents, and Young Adult Asian Americans 123
    • 4.5 Language Usage by Ethnicity 125
    • 4.6 Language Usage by Where Asian Americans Are Born and the Language Spoken at Home When They Were Children 127
    • 4.7 Associations Among Individualistic and Collectivistic Tendencies, Language Usage, and Generation 128
    • 5.1 Relational Expectations by Ethnicity 135
    • 5.2 Relational Expectations by Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities 135
    • 5.3 Politeness Rules for Asian Americans and European Americans 139
    • 5.4 Stereotypes of Own Ethnic Group by Ethnicity 145
    • 5.5 Stereotypes of Own Group by Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities 148
    • 5.6 Communication Styles by Ethnicity 156
    • 5.7 Communication Styles by Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities 157
    • 5.8 Anxiety, Uncertainty, and Effectiveness by Ethnicity 166
    • 5.9 Anxiety, Uncertainty, and Effectiveness by Strength of Ethnic and Cultural Identities 167

    Preface

    My purpose in writing this book is to summarize what we know about Asian American communication and the factors that influence it. I am interested in how communication is similar and/or different across Asian American ethnic groups. My focus is not on comparing Asian Americans' communication with European Americans' communication, but I do present this type of research where it is available.

    It is impossible to examine communication in all Asian American ethnic groups in this book. I choose to limit my coverage to Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, and Vietnamese Americans. I selected these specific groups because they tend to be the largest Asian American ethnic groups (although Asian Indian Americans also are a large group). Also, it appeared at the outset that more research has been conducted on these five groups than on other Asian American ethnic groups.

    As I started collecting information for the book, it became clear that there has not been a great deal of research conducted specifically on Asian American communication. Communication researchers have focused on understanding communication in Asian cultures more than on understanding Asian American communication. The research that has been conducted on communication in Asian cultures, nevertheless, is necessary background information for understanding Asian American communication (i.e., Asian Americans' communication is based on their Asian cultural heritages, at least to some extent).

    The research that has been conducted on Asian American communication varies tremendously by ethnic group. The most research on Asian American interpersonal communication has been conducted on Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans. The most research on communication acculturation of immigrants, in contrast, has been conducted on Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans. The differences in the focus of the research that has been conducted is due to the different ethnic groups' immigration experiences in the United States. There is, however, no research of which I am aware that has examined any aspect of communication across the five ethnic groups I discuss in this book.

    To fill the void in the research, I conducted a Survey of Asian American Communication. In the study, I collected data on selected aspects of communication from Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, and Vietnamese Americans in southern California. This study was not designed to be a definitive study but rather a first attempt to compare communication across the five ethnic groups. I present data from the Survey where appropriate throughout the book. I present the results of the Survey in a non-statistical manner. Where differences across the five groups are presented, readers can assume that the statistical tests (e.g., analysis of variance) were significant. The correlations presented in the book also are significant correlations. The methods used in the Survey are presented in the appendix.

    To further fill in gaps in research on Asian Americans, I re-analyzed data from several recent studies that I have conducted with colleagues that included Asian American and European American respondents. Unfortunately, these studies do not include sufficient respondents in each Asian American ethnic group to compare findings across ethnic groups, and panethnic analyses had to be conducted. I also asked a colleague (Min-Sun Kim) to provide similar analyses. These analyses are presented only to begin to fill in gaps in research, not as definitive results.

    Before thanking the people who helped me prepare the book, I want to make a brief comment on spelling. The traditional spelling of Filipino is with an “F.” There are, however, many people from the Philippines who prefer the spelling Pilipino. I used the Pilipino spelling on the Survey of Asian American Communication. About one-third of the respondents “corrected” my spelling. I debated switching back and forth in the spelling I used, but decided that this would be confusing. Since the vast majority of references I cited use the Filipino spelling, I decided to use it throughout the book.

    I want to thank several people who helped in making this book possible. Peter Lee, Daryl Nagano, Linh Chau, and Belinda Wells helped me collect the data for the Survey of Asian American Communication (Peter and Daryl also assisted in coding the data). I would not have been able to complete the study without their help. I want to thank Min-Sun Kim for providing re-analyses of data from several of her studies in Hawaii that included Asian American respondents. These analyses were very helpful in filling in gaps in the research. Jeff Brody also made preliminary analyses available from his study of Vietnamese Americans in southern California. I also want to thank Young Yun Kim for providing information on the research she has conducted on Asian immigrants. Talking with Young also was very helpful in working through some of the ideas I present in the book.

    I have been a member of the Asian American Studies Program Council at California State University, Fullerton since shortly after its inception. My colleagues on the Council have been very supportive of my efforts to study Asian American communication (including allowing me to collect data in their classes). They also have been supportive of including Asian American communication as part of the Asian American Studies curriculum.

    Margaret Seawell, the Communication Editor at Sage, has supported my work on this book since I first proposed the book. The book would not exist without her efforts. Finally, writing the book was made possible by a sabbatical leave from California State University, Fullerton.

    BillGudykunstLaguna Beach, California
  • Appendix: Survey of Asian American Communication

    The Survey of Asian American Communication was designed to begin to fill some of the gaps regarding data on Asian Americans' communication. The data were collected in southern California using a “snowball” sampling technique. The data are clearly not representative of all Asian Americans throughout the United States or Asian Americans in southern California. The data, nevertheless, can provide insight into similarities and differences across the various Asian American ethnic groups that have not been examined before.

    My purpose in this appendix is to outline the methods used to collect the data and to explain how the variables were measured. I conclude the appendix with a brief overview of the statistical analyses that were conducted.

    Respondents

    Three hundred and thirty-one Asian Americans participated in this study. The respondents included only individuals who identified themselves as Asian Americans. Data were collected mainly from students at a midsize West Coast university. Some students, however, were asked to have their relatives (e.g., their parents) fill out the questionnaire in order to ensure a wide variety of Asian Americans participating in the study. In addition, some questionnaires were collected at Asian American ethnic churches.

    The sample consisted of 74 Chinese Americans (30 males, 44 females), 55 Japanese Americans (23 males, 32 females), 43 Korean Americans (21 males, 22 females), 74 Filipino Americans (30 males, 44 females), 49 Vietnamese Americans (14 males, 35 females), 9 from other groups (e.g., Asian Indian Americans, Cambodian Americans; 6 males, 3 females), and 27 of mixed heritage (e.g., Japanese American/European American; 6 males, 21 females). Only data from Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, and Vietnamese Americans were used in the analyses.

    The sample included 131 first-generation Asian Americans, 90 second-generation Asian Americans, 52 third-generation Asian Americans, 28 fourth-generation Asian Americans, and 10 fifth-generation Asian Americans (24 did not report generation). One hundred and fifty-three of the respondents were born in the United States and 172 outside the United States (10 did not indicate where they were born). Almost half (48.3%) of those not born in the United States arrived before age 10; 14.6% arrived between ages 10 and 12. Many of those who arrived at a very young age indicated that they were second generation. (Note: 1.5 generation was not a response option.)

    The average age of the sample was 26.61 (SD = 11.75). Eighty-four of the respondents were married, and 63 of the spouses were from the same ethnic group.

    Ideally, the sample would have been larger than it is. My goal was to collect data from 100 members of each of the five groups studied. This, however, proved to be impossible.

    Measurement

    All measures were included in a questionnaire booklet. Only respondents 18 or over were asked to participate. Respondents were informed that participation was voluntary and that by returning a questionnaire they were giving consent to participate. The items used to measure identities and self construals were mixed together randomly in one section. The communication style items, value items, stereotype items, and expectation items were placed randomly in separate sections.

    Ethnic Identities

    Strength of ethnic identities was measured by adapting a scale developed by Ting-Toomey et al. (2000). The eight items used to measure ethnic identities were: “I think a lot about how my life will be affected by my ethnic group membership.” “In order to learn more about my ethnic background, I have often talked to other people about my ethnic group.” “I am involved with activities with my ethnic group.” “I feel a strong attachment to being a member of my ethnic group.” “I involve myself in causes that will help my ethnic group.” “I am determined to find my ethnic identity.” “I feel excitement in my own ethnic environment.” and “The ethnic group I belong to is important to my sense of what kind of person I am.” The scale for the items ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Combination of the items yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .85).

    For several analyses, ethnic identity was divided using a median split (median = 4.38). Those respondents above the median were treated as the strong ethnic identity group, and those at the median or below were treated as the weak ethnic identity group.

    Cultural Identities

    Strength of cultural identities was measured by adapting a scale developed by Ting-Toomey et al. (2000). The five items measuring cultural identities were: “I generally identify strongly with the overall US culture.” “It is important for me to identify with the overall US culture.” “The overall US culture is an important reflection of who I am.” “It is important for me to follow the overall US cultural values.” and “I usually go by my values of the overall US culture.” The scale for the items ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Combination of the items yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .81).

    In several analyses, cultural identity was divided using a median split (median = 4.60). Those respondents above the median were treated as the strong cultural identity group, and those at the median or below were treated as the weak cultural identity group.

    Identity Types

    In the orthogonal model analyses, ethnic and cultural identities were treated as separate independent variables. In the typological model analyses, ethnic and cultural identities were combined to form the four types: strong cultural identities/strong ethnic identities (integration in Berry's terms), strong cultural identities/weak ethnic identities (assimilation), weak cultural identities/strong ethnic identities (separation), and weak cultural identities/weak ethnic identities (marginalization).

    Individualistic Values

    Individual and collectivistic values were measured using values developed by Schwartz (1992). Seven individualistic values were included: “an exciting life,” “being independent,” “having power,” “self-cultivation,” “a sense of accomplishment,” “pleasure,” and “social recognition.” Respondents used a scale from 1 (not at all important) to 7 (of supreme importance). Combining the seven items yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .71).

    Collectivistic Values

    Six collectivistic values were included: “harmony with others,” “being cooperative with others,” “observing social rituals,” “honoring parents,” “being polite,” and “moderation, following the middle way.” The response scale was the same as for individualistic values. Combining the six values yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .70).

    Independent Self Construals

    The measures of the independent (the self as a separate entity) and the interdependent (the self as interdependent with other ingroup members) self construals were adapted from scales developed by Gudykunst, Matsumoto et al. (1996). Six items were used to measure independent self construals: “My personal identity is important to me.” “I enjoy being unique and different from others.” “I prefer to be self-reliant rather than depend on others.” “I take responsibility for my own actions.” “It is important for me to act as an independent person.” and “I should decide my future on my own.” The scale for the items ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Combining the items yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .80).

    Interdependent Self Construals

    Six items were used to measure interdependent self construals: “I maintain harmony in the groups of which I am a member.” “I will sacrifice my self interests for the benefit of my group.” “I stick with my group even through difficulties.” “I respect decisions made by my group.” “I respect the majority's wishes in groups of which I am a member.” and “It is important to consult friends and get their ideas before making a decision.” The scale for the items ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Combining the items yielded a reliable scale (alpha = .77).

    Percentage of English Spoken with Family/Friends

    The percentage of English used with family and friends was measured by two items: “When you communicate with your family, what percentage of your interactions take place in English?” “When you communicate with your friends, what percentage of your interactions take place in English?” The answers ranged from zero (0) to 100%. Combining the two items yielded a highly reliable scale (alpha = .94).

    Ethnic Language Abilities

    The ability in the ethnic language was assessed by four self-report items: “How fluent are you in speaking [understanding, writing, reading] the language associated with your ethnic background?” Respondents answered on a scale from 1 (not at all fluent) to 7 (totally fluent). Combination of the four items yielded a highly reliable scale (alpha = .93).

    Shared Networks

    Shared networks with other members of the ethnic group was measured using three items: “Approximately what percentage of your acquaintances [friends, close friends] are members of your ethnic group?” The answers ranged from zero (0) to 100%. Combination of the three items yielded a highly reliable scale (alpha = .88).

    Relational Expectations

    Relational expectations were measured using items developed by Kelley and Burgoon (1991). Five separate measures were constructed: intimacy, control, receptivity, arousal, and trust/equality. The items were preceded by the phrase “I would expect that other members of my ethnic group would…” at the beginning of the items and the top of each succeeding page. The response scale ranged from 1 (not very likely) to 7 (very likely).

    Intimacy. Intimacy was measured using seven items: “be interested in talking to me,” “establish rapport with me,” “treat me like a good friend,” “make me feel we are similar,” “like me,” “be reasonable with me,” and “desire to move our conversations to deep levels.” Reliability for the five items was .81.

    Control. Control was measured using six items: “try to control our interactions,” “act more powerful than me,” “have the upper hand during our conversations,” “dominate our conversations,” “be in control of our relationship,” and “be assertive with me.” Reliability for the six items was .83

    Receptivity. Receptivity was measured using five items: “make our interactions very formal” (reversed), “keep our relationship at an impersonal level” (reversed), “be willing to listen to me,” “not care what I think” (reversed), and “want to keep our conversations businesslike” (reversed). Combination of the five items yielded a reliability of .60.

    Arousal. Arousal was measured using three items: “be relaxed when talking with me” (reversed), “be frustrated with me,” and “be distracted by my behavior.” Reliability was .70.

    Trust/Equality. Trust/equality was measured by six items: “treat me as an equal,” “want me to trust him or her,” “establish common ground with me,” “be comfortable interacting with me,” “be sincere in communicating with me,” and “want to cooperate with me.” Reliability was .82.

    Communication Styles

    Measurement of communication styles was based on Norton (1983) and Gudykunst, Matsumoto et al. (1996). Ten styles were derived from Norton: dramatic, contentious, animated, relaxed, attentive, openness, friendly, precise, nonverbal expressiveness, and communicator image. (Note: The dominant style also was measured, but the scale did not meet the minimum criteria for reliability.) Five styles were derived from Gudykunst, Matsumoto et al.: ability to infer meaning, indirect, interpersonal sensitivity, using feelings to guide behavior, and positive perceptions of silence. The response scale for all items was 1 {strongly disagree) to 7 {strongly agree).

    Dramatic. Dramatic was measured by five items: “My speech tends to be very picturesque.” “I frequently verbally exaggerate to emphasize a point.” “I dramatize a lot.” “I regularly tell jokes and stories when I communicate.” and “I often physically or vocally act out what I want to communicate.” Reliability was .70.

    Contentious. Contentious was measured by five items: “Once I get wound up in a heated discussion, I have a hard time stopping myself.” “In arguments I insist on very precise definitions.” “I often insist that people present proof for what they are saying.” “When I disagree with someone, I am quick to challenge them.” and “I am very argumentative.” Reliability was .65.

    Animated. Animated was measured by five items: “I actively use facial expressions when I communicate.” “I am very expressive nonverbally in social situations.” “I tend to constantly gesture when I communicate.” “People generally know my emotional state, even if I do not say anything.” and “My eyes tend to reflect what I am feeling when I communicate.” Reliability was .70.

    Relaxed. Relaxed was measured by five items: “I am conscious of nervous mannerism in my speech” (reversed). “As a rule, I am very calm and collected when I talk.” “Under pressure, I come across as a relaxed speaker.” “The flow of my speech is affected by my nervousness” (reversed), and “I am a very relaxed communicator.” Reliability was .60.

    Attentive. Attentive was measured by five items: “I can always repeat to a person what was said.” “I always show I am very empathic with people.” “I am an extremely attentive communicator.” “I like to listen very carefully to people.” and “I deliberately react in a way that people know that I am listening to them.” Reliability was .68.

    Openness. Openness was measured by four items: “I readily reveal personal things about myself.” “I am an extremely open communicator.” “Usually I do not tell people very much about myself until I get to know them quite well” (reversed). and “As a rule, I generally express my feelings or emotions.” Reliability was .60.

    Friendly. Friendly was measured by four items: “I always prefer to be tactful.” “I am an extremely friendly communicator.” “Most of the time, I tend to be very encouraging to people.” and “I habitually acknowledge verbally others' contributions.” Reliability was .63.

    Precise. Precise was measured by five items: “I try to be accurate when I communicate.” “When I engage in discussion, I try to cover all possible issues.” “I do not like interacting with others who do not give a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to questions.” “I am a very precise communicator.” and “In arguments, I insist on very precise definitions.” Reliability was .63.

    Nonverbal Expressiveness. Nonverbal expressiveness was measured by four items: “People always seem to know my moods from my nonverbal behavior.” “People can easily read my emotional state from my facial expressions.” “When I strongly feel an emotion, I show it.” and “I show my anger when people make me angry.” Reliability was .61.

    Communicator Image. Communicator image was measured by five items: “The way I communicate influences my life positively.” “I am a very good communicator.” “I find it easy to communicate with strangers.” “In a small group of strangers, I am a very good communicator.” and “I find it easy to maintain a conversation with a member of the opposite sex whom I just met.” Reliability was .77.

    Inferring Meanings. Inferring meanings was measured by five items: “I catch on to what others mean even if they do not say it directly.” “I am able to recognize subtle and indirect messages.” “I am very good at knowing the feelings other people are experiencing.” “Even if I do not receive a clear and definite response from others, I can understand what they intend.” and “Usually, I can read another person ‘like a book.’” Reliability was .77.

    Indirect. Indirect style was measured by five items: “I am evasive when I communicate with others.” “I communicate in an indirect fashion.” “I am ambiguous when I communicate with others.” “When pressed for an opinion, I respond with an ambiguous position.” and “Others have to guess what I mean when we communicate.” Reliability was .68.

    Interpersonal Sensitivity. Interpersonal sensitivity was measured by five items: “I maintain harmony in my communication with others.” “I qualify (e.g., use ‘maybe,’ ‘perhaps’) in my language when I communicate.” “When I turn down an invitation, I make sure that the other person is not offended.” “I listen carefully to people when they talk.” and “If I have something negative to say to others, I will be tactful.” Reliability was .62.

    Using Feelings to Guide Behavior. Using feelings to guide behavior was measured by five items: “I use my feelings to determine how I should communicate.” “I listen to what my ‘gut’ or ‘heart’ says in many situations.” “I use my feelings to guide my behavior more than most people.” “I orient to people through my emotions.” and “My emotions tell me what to do in many situations.” Reliability was .82.

    Positive Perceptions of Silence. Positive perceptions of silence was measured by four items: “I find silence awkward in conversations with people I've just met” (reversed). “I can sit with another person, not say anything, and still be comfortable.” “I feel comfortable with silences in conversations.” and “I do not like conversational silences” (reversed). Reliability was .65.

    Stereotypes

    To assess stereotypes, respondents indicated the degree that they thought 22 adjectives were characteristic of members of their ethnic groups. The response scale ranged from 1 (not at all characteristic) to 7 (very characteristic). The adjectives were these: “intelligent,” “ambitious,” “compassionate,” “conservative,” “friendly,” “aggressive,” “materialistic,” “industrious,” “deceitful,” “arrogant,” “cooperative,” “warm,” “conventional,” “quiet,” “pleasure loving,” “honest,” “sincere,” “progressive,” “tradition loving,” “competitive,” “emotional,” and “talkative.”

    Statistical Analyses

    The data were analyzed using analyses of variance tests and correlation coefficients. I have not presented the analysis of variance statistics in the text. Any place where I indicate that there is a difference across the five ethnic groups (or other variables), the analysis of variance test was statistically significant (e.g., differences among the five ethnic groups in their stereotypes of their own ethnic groups). When I further indicate that there are differences between specific ethnic groups (e.g., Filipino Americans see themselves as more open than Japanese Americans), follow-up t tests between the groups were statistically significant.

    The associations between variables discussed in the text are based on correlation coefficients. I have not presented correlation coefficients in the text, but any association presented in the text is statistically significant. I have not, however, reported all significant correlations.

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    About the Author

    William B. Gudykunst is Professor of Speech Communication and a member of the Asian American Studies Program Council at California State University, Fullerton. His work focuses on developing a theory of interpersonal and in-tergroup effectiveness that can be applied to improving the quality of communication, and on explaining similarities and differences in communication across cultures and ethnic groups. He is the author of Bridging Differences and co-author of Culture and Interpersonal Communication, Communicating With Strangers, Bridging Japanese/North American Differences, and Building Bridges, among others. He has edited or co-edited numerous books, including Communication in Japan and the United States, Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication, Theories of Intercultural Communication, and Communication in Personal Relationships Across Cultures, among others. He is the editor of Communication Yearbook and a Fellow of the International Communication Association.


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