Understanding Effects Of Ethnicity In Afghan Culture Essay
Ethnic differences prevalent in Afghanistan have had a great impact on peoples’ personal lives especially during interpersonal communication. As an Afghan citizen, belonging to the Pashtan ethnic group, born and raised in a multicultural society, I had to master the art of effective communication at an early age. Here in this paper, I will explain how my life has been impacted by ethnic differences in Afghanistan especially during interpersonal communication. I will explain how I communicate with my friends from my ethnic group, from other ethnic groups as well as foreigners living in Afghanistan.
My paternal grandfather, a Push tan was a governor in Central Afghanistan while my maternal grandfather, a Tajik, was the Interior Minister and finance minister and my father was the Mayor of Herat City, in the west of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is situated in South-western Asia. It borders Iran, Pakistan and several other countries in Central Asia. The “Islamic State of Afghanistan” is Afghanistan’s official name. Kabul is the capital and the other two major cities in Afghanistan are Herat and Kandahar.
More than three quarters of Afghanistan’s population inhabits rural areas. The literacy level in Afghanistan is very low and it is among the world’s countries with small economies(Hussain 34-35). My ethnic group, Pushtun, is the major ethnic group in Afghanistan accounting for almost a half the population (42%). Tajiks account for 27% Hazaras 9% Uzbel 9% Aimak 4% Turkmen 3% while the other ethnic groups account for 4% of the population. As a result of the diverse ethnic groups, Afghanistan has been adopting various language policies in a bid to foster national unity.
For instance, in 1992, the communist regime fell due to constant fighting which arose as a result of issues such as language policy. Linguistic differences made various factions fight each other. Consequently, between the year 1992 and 1996, Afghanistan’s national anthem was changed from Pashto language to the Dari(Hussain 40-44) The 2003 Draft Constitution in Afghanistan saw the Pashto and Dari languages become the official languages during the Draft Constitution’s amendments of Afghanistan’s language policy.
The constitution made provisions guaranteeing all languages as equal. In today’s world, most countries strive to preserve its people’s culture as well as the language. Afghanistan has adopted the Assimilation Language Policy, which is aimed at fostering national unit by having a single national language. Pashtu is the national language of Afghanistan(Hussain 35-39) In Afghanistan, bilingualism is very common. Most people, especially literates can write and speak in at least two ethnic languages. As a child, I acquired two ethnic languages.
By the time I went for my primary education, I could speak a few Dari words and phrases in addition to my mother tongue, Pushtan. When I joined school, I learned the Dari language which is taught because it is the national language. When people become competent in two or more languages, they tend to use both languages in interpersonal communications. This results in switching between codes and mixing phrases from two different ethnic languages. Code switching is the use of words or phrases from two distinct languages or dialects in interpersonal communication. Code mixing entails the use of various words or phrases.
When participants code-mix, they learn to relate what is altered by the speaker during a speech activity with the intended meaning as well as learning to compare what is spoken with what they know(Wood 67). In Afghanistan, people may code switch consciously or unconsciously. When a person code switches unconsciously, it is because s/he has gained competence in the two languages. Thus, one will switch between the languages and may not intent any communicative effect on the listeners, although the listeners may achieve an effect depending on how the speaker switches or mixes phrases.
Conscious switching or mixing between different languages entails the speaker’s conscious effort. The speaker decides where to put a certain word or phrase with the aim of achieving a certain communication effect (Julia 30). Whenever I am with my Pushtan friends, we at times switch between the Pushtan language and the Dari language. At times, we do this unconsciously without putting into consideration the communication effect it will have to our listeners. Competence in both languages enables us to know where, when and how to mix the codes and switch between the two languages effectively.
After all, we have spoken and written in these languages since childhood. In Afghanistan, people switch between languages for a number of varied reasons. For instance, whenever I am with my Pushtan friends and a band of people from say Dari whom we may detest and look down upon joins our band, we will code switch and code mix intentionally. We do this in a bid to make them feel unwanted. Occasionally, some of us will mix some Pashtun words with the Dari language. Infact, a great percentage of the words and phrases used in the speech may constitute Pashtun words.
Normally, during most interpersonal communications, everyone wants to participate and this entails understanding what the other participants say so as to respond effectively. Since we withhold certain information from them by code switching, this makes the Dari speakers not participate in the speech act. Consequently, some of them may opt to leave the band while the stubborn ones may remain behind. Nothing irritates like people breaking into laughter and you are left wondering what amused them. One can even be made to think that he is the subject of mockery.
Thus we may code switch so as to eliminate those we don’t want in our band (Jacobson 54) Our group may also code switch so as to make other groups of people feel appreciated. For instance, whenever we are with our friends from other ethnic groups, some of my friends who have mastered a few phrases and words from the languages will mix them with the Dari language. This makes them feel accommodated in our band. They feel that we appreciate their languages which are deemed to be inferior simply because they are not the official or national languages in Afghanistan.
During interpersonal communication, everyone wants to be a part of the speech event. Consequently, our friends will feel motivated to participate because we acknowledge their presence. In addition, whenever I am with my Pushtan friends and we encounter Dari speakers who are not competent in Pushtan, we choose to use the Dari language in a bid to accommodate them. During a speech event, people tend to accommodate the other speakers. This is very crucial for effective communication.
Imagine a situation where you speak to someone in, say, Dari, and he responds in Pashtun. Will you continue speaking in Dari? Of course not you would rather opt to switch to Pashtun if you are competent in it so as to avoid communication barriers. Language differences in Afghanistan can lead to communication barriers and so people have learned to accommodate others during a speech event by switching to the language used by other participants (Giles and Coupland 52). During a speech event, we may change our styles from time to time.
Some of the reasons which make our band change styles during interpersonal communication include the topic being discussed, the participants in our band, and the motives/intentions of our band and so on. So we accommodate other participants by adjusting the number of times we switch between languages and strive to minimize the number of switches depending on the person we are speaking to. The accommodation is applied in our day-to-day speech events. In fact, some of my Dari friends who are not competent in Pushtan have mastered a few Pushtan words and phrases.
Whenever we are conversing, they may mix a few Pashtun phrases with Dari phrases in a sentence. They do this so as to please us. They want us to think that they recognize and appreciate our language. As a matter of fact, some of them do this sarcastically; nothing irritates a Pashtan speaker than to hear a Dari speaker or any other speaker use a Pushtan word or phrase of which he or she does not even have the slightest idea of its meaning. Worse still, some of them may even use the wrong word order. I once lived in Hawaii and learned a few Hawaii words.
When I visited the United States, I could hear the Americans switch to the Hawaii language. Some Americans could even mix spiritual phrases and words with English. What irritated me most was the fact that the Americans were not competent in the Hawaii language, yet they could dare mix Hawaii spiritual words and phrases of which they did not even know the meaning. I consider this as a kind of theft and a slap on the face to the Hawaii language. People should respect other peoples’ language especially spiritual words and phrases.
In addition, Afghan’s may also code switch because they feel that they cannot express themselves well in a certain language. They feel that they lack certain words or expressions from a given language and that another language may have a ready word or expression for the message they want to convey. Whenever I am speaking with my Pashtun friends, who understand the Dari language, I will not bother much to think for a word in Pashtun when I have a Dari word or phrase for it. Most people will sometimes find it difficult to express themselves in their mother tongue.
To some people, expressing oneself in an official language is much easier since it is the language they use most of the time, thus, they always have ready words and phrases. Most people agree that it is easy to express oneself in Dari, the national language simply because they use it more often and they may lack the appropriate words in their original language. Afghans view code switching to be beneficial during interpersonal communication although this will depend on the context or situation in which it occurs.
This holds true, especially when a speaker encounters problems expressing himself in a particular language and he/she is competent in another language which his speakers are competent in. Thus, a speaker will break the communication gap by inserting phrases or words from the language his participants understand. Ethnicity also affects communication styles and strategies in Afghanistan in that, people from different ethnic groups have differences in social etiquette, customs and protocol.
In Afghanistan, there are some common customs and protocols among the different ethnic groups, which affect interpersonal communication. For instance, men and women should not make eye contact. Men should not prolong their eye contact with other men and when they do, they should do so only occasionally. This custom creates a communication barrier in that communication between men and women is not effective since women are not allowed to speak directly to men. If a woman speaks directly to a man, she is being disgraceful and lowering her dignity.
This greatly affects my life since women in our country are deprived of rights of expression, which implies that our mothers and sisters, who are the backbone of our nation, have no direct communicative role to play in the society. This implies that men and women in my country have to employ different styles and strategies in both verbal and non-verbal communication. In order to ensure that they preserve their cultural values, mixing between genders in my country is not freely allowed and free mixing only takes place within families.
In places of work, in offices, and businesses or at institutions of learning, both higher and lower, both men and women must respect and maintain each other’s honor. They must also adhere to their culture without putting into consideration the impact it will have on interpersonal relations. Consequently, this has led to poor interpersonal relations in public places, which has led to increased war and conflicts among individuals, groups of people and ethnic societies. These have led to men dominating the country.
Since they are the only ones who have a say, they have gone ahead and enacted and enforced laws and regulations which undermine their women folks and children who are regarded as inferior members of the society. Interactions and relations between individuals have also been adversely affected especially in institutions of learning. Foreign students who join universities in Afghanistan are faced with major challenges. To start with, most of these students come from ethnic backgrounds where women and men are regarded as equal. Consequently, they are forced to learn and to read the rules and ensure that they abide by them.
This has led to students’ academic performance being affected since they spend a lot of time adapting to cultural changes. Besides eye contact, which is a non-verbal communication style, other types of non-verbal communication are also affected. Signals are also affected by ethnic differences. People send signals to convey messages. Sending of signals has been affected by ethnic differences in that people may send the wrong signals during the process of communication. Since women are not allowed to look at men in the eyes, this may pass the wrong signals to foreign men who have not mastered Afghanistan culture.
They may think that the women are shy and may consequently tease them or misunderstand their intentions. In addition, since men and women are not allowed to shake hands, a misunderstanding may arise when an Afghanistan man or woman declines to shake hands with a foreigner who is not aware of the cultural values in Afghanistan. As a result, the communication process among different ethnic groups in Afghanistan has not been effective. The handshake is the most common form of greeting used in Afghanistan, Placing one’s hands over their hearts and nodding slightly is also another form of greeting.
Foreigners can misunderstand this and a wrong signal can be sent probably signaling that someone is in love or in shock depending on how placing one’s hands over one’s heart implies in one’s culture. Symbols are also another form of non-verbal communication used. Symbols can be used to represent or express information. For the process of communication to be effective, the transmitter needs to employ both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication because they supplement each other.
Ethnicity in Afghanistan has affected interpersonal communication in that cultural values have made the use of symbols ineffective by making them fail to communicate the intended information. Whenever I am socializing with the women folks in Afghanistan, I do not get their message right since they do not use symbols appropriately in a bid to uphold their cultural values. Men are supposed to dominate all interactions including interpersonal communications When a Turtumani person is speaking to a Baluchi speaker, one has to use Dari, which is the official language.
The two language speakers have different cultural values and backgrounds. The problem may arise if one of the speakers say the Baluchi speaker, is illiterate and does not understand the national language. Thus, the two speakers will need the assistance of an interpreter. If the interpreter is not competent in both languages, a communication breakdown may arise. Most literate Afghans have learned Social and Humanistic languages and have leaned that each ethnic group is unique in and that no ethnic group should be considered superior than the other. Language reflects a peoples’ culture.
Verbal communication entails use of well-constructed sentences with a correct word order. According to linguists, each language is unique in its own way and no language is deemed to be more superior to other. Thus, each Afghanistan ethnic language whether used as a national or official language contains complex structures. Each ethnic language has its own unique way of tense formation. Since the literacy level in Afghanistan is very low, communicating with people who are not learned in Afghanistan has posed a great challenge for me and my literate friends.
I recall with nostalgia an incidence where my best Friend, Pierre picked up a fight with an illiterate Dari speaker as he tried to convince him that all languages are equal. In conclusion, ethnicity affects interpersonal communication in Afghanistan in that certain ethnic communities look down upon others. Some communities feel that they are greater/superior than others simply because they are considered to be bestowed with more natural resources than the others. Consequently, a communication gap may arise between the two.
For instance, Dari ethnic groups and the Pashtans perceive themselves to be superior to other ethnic groups like Turkmen or Aimak ethnic groups. This is because they are a majority groups in the country’s population and their languages are recognized as the national and official languages. Each ethnic group in Afghanistan has a specific vocabulary, which it uses during the process of communication. For instance, the Pashtans have a specific and unique vocabulary, which they use. These cultural vocabularies hinder communication when one is speaking to members of a different ethnic group who do not have competence in the Pashtan language.
As a result, Afghans should learn to embrace their diverse cultures by learning to cope with the challenges they encounter due to ethnic differences on their day-to-day activities. Afghanistan has been through many calamities and disasters, or instance, landmines and explosions. Schools have also been shattered, hospitals and roads demolished not to forget violence against women and drug addiction among the youth. These problems can be minimized by effective interpersonal communication among differing ethnic groups or parties.
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