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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Culture as Non-Consensus: Exploring Coherence Among Native Speakers’ Perceptions of German Expressions of Affection


From early in their learning experience, foreign language (FL) learners at American universities explore socio-cultural connotations that, it is argued, are signified by FL words. Textbook authors and teachers follow an implicit canon of difference, a list of iconic words that over time—and without the benefit of empirical evidence—have come to represent essential differences in outlook between their native and the FL culture (Kubota, 2004). Despite the fast progression of the theory of teaching culture in FL learning (Kramsch, 2015; Risager, 2015), large empirical gaps remain. Todate, there is little evidence that native speakers (NSs) of the FL perceive their cultural practices, including the cultural contexts in which language is used, homogenously enough to warrant their status as cultural traits. Using the example of expressions of affection, this exploratory study drew on qualitative and quantitative questionnaire data to investigate whether German NSs’ (N=52) accounts of their own and of most fellow Germans’ language behavior converged enough to derive a comprehensive and reliable cultural norm. Results indicated a lack of consensus among German NSs’ self-reported views, eluding the assumption of a pertinent community-specific norm. Implications for FL teaching and learning, as well as directions for future research, are discussed.

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