Friday, February 17, 2012

Working with cultural taboos on touch in HICP

Clipart: Clker
In my high school public speaking class (circa 1960), one of the "rules" for giving effective speeches was to NEVER touch your head. You got points off every time you touched your face--for any reason. That lesson stuck . . . (For a general review of the place of the use of touch in communication and therapy cross-culturally, see the piece on the Zur website linked above.) Although it is difficult to find readily accessible research on the web on the place of self-touch in various cultures, there are some surveys that relate general principles, such as this one. Given the incredible range of symbolic meanings attached to the head, face, hands and arms in different cultures, the chances of infringing on a student's L1 paralinguistic taboos in working with directed upper body movement can be substantial. Likewise, touching hands in the visual field can accidentally coincide with a prohibited gesture. That constraint is evident in the development of signing systems for deaf in different cultures, as well. In EHIEP system as it is today, in addition to touching hands, much like sign language, there is some minor facial touching in anchoring, such momentarily placing a finger on the voice box or point on the head to get the felt sense of resonance. Experience with learners from most major cultures have helped us gradually eliminate pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) that don't work in specific contexts, but instructors may well have to make minor adjustments. For example, recently we were working with a new protocol to establish more upper body flexibility that included lightly tapping both thighs in the course of the exercise. The students reacted with great, embarrassed laughter--quickly informing the instructor that that touching gesture signalled a very personal function in their culture, never to be done in public! There have been more than a dozen such "revelations" in the last few years--such as left hand use--to the point where what we have today generally is accepted by students as at least inoffensive in the classroom context. (Part of the reason for that is that normally in the early stages as the PMPs are being learned, only the instructor can see the students' PMPs, not other students.) I have, on the other hand,  a long list of other techniques that should be taboo in pronunciation teaching . . . 

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