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"Asia" [matter-of-fact] communication: A Finnish cultural term for talk in educational scenes

Richard John Wilkins, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the general problem of how one comes to know culturally distinct patterns of communication. Building on earlier cultural pragmatic work that is both derivative of, and informed by Dell Hymes' (“Models”) assumptive base in thinking about communication as systematic, social, and culturally distinct, this study examines the Finnish term asia [matter-of-fact] as a cultural term for talk. This study asks: how do participants conceive and identify through the asia term, and enact their world of communication? Through applying the terms for talk framework (Carbaugh, “Fifty”) this study is organized generally to explore reports and enactments of communication practice in some Finnish adult education scenes. This is done through an examination of nonverbal acts, norms, ritual, and a vacillating form. This study proceeds to examine “listenership” in which a set of nonverbal acts such as keeping the face straight, minimal gestures, and maintaining a diverted or shifted gaze are acts deemed proper conduct to the asia [matter-at-hand]. Speech deemed to be of the asia style must be direct, factual, goal-directed, controlled and unemotional, and not be “personal face” but “informational face.” Asia talk as a sequence of acts and its ritualized event structure show infocentrism to be the sacred principle celebrated in asia talk. Central findings of this dissertation point to infocentrism as a Finnish culturally based (a) relational code with a preference for an informational face, (b) idea of clearness where persons are motivated to understand, (c) an aesthetic of simplicity in expression describing the necessary degree of performability in speech. Two models for identifying are found in a vacillating form, one infocentric, and the other personalistic. The principle finding shows how asia, as a Finnish cultural term for talk, constructs a sense of infocentric communication, sociality, and personhood that, in some educational scenes, places informational concerns over, and against, personalistic and expressive concerns. Through a comparative examination of other cultures we see how cultural terms for talk enter as resources for understanding cultural variability in communication conduct. This study further points to how educators and students can be prepared for studies abroad or teaching in multicultural contexts.

Subject Area

Communication|Linguistics|Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Wilkins, Richard John, ""Asia" [matter-of-fact] communication: A Finnish cultural term for talk in educational scenes" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9932356.