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Gladwell's Paper Case

Essay by   •  October 14, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  2,644 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,187 Views

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In the 7th chapter of Gladwell's paper, "Outliers, The Story of Success" he talks about how the Korean Airline earned such a dismal record of crashes. The airline had such a bad record of airplane safety that major airlines suspended their partnership with them (181). In the paper, he makes a claim that the Korean language's social boundaries were the reason for the mass amount of accidents that happened. According to his claim the usage of another language, in this case English, enabled the crew to communication on equal terms which eliminated the social boundaries of the Korean language. I believe that the given reason for the pilots' improved flight performance cannot be solely contributed due to the switch from Korean to English. I believe that the claim puts too much emphasis on the language itself and takes away from what one's native environment might have on one's way of thinking. In this paper, I will be showing that switching languages does not necessarily change one's way of thinking as easily as Gladwell made it seem in his paper.

In talking about the flight performance of the Korean airline, Gladwell mentions how a Westerner named Greenberg was sent to help find a solution for the Koreans. Greenberg's solution was simply making everybody on the crew to only talk with one another using English. So Greenberg began his plan by improving the English proficiency of all the pilots and their crew member. By improving their English speaking skills, he hoped that the whole crew will be able to communicate with each other on equal grounds without being subjugated to the social hierarchy of the Korean language(218).

He believes that English allows for communication without reinforcement of the social standards that the Korean language has which will enable everybody to speak to one another on equal grounds. This is in turn will allow the rest of the crew to speak freely to the pilot when voicing their opinion in a much more direct way without fearing of speaking out of place against their superiors. Greenberg credits the drastic improvement to the Korean Airline to this simple switch in language. However, I believe that Greenburg's claim cannot be true since it does not take into account just how the social behaviorism of the crew members are instilled in them and cannot be that easily changed.

Our geography plays a major role in attributing to the way in which we think and act. In Richard E. Nisbett's "Geography of Thought" he shows just how the early Greeks and Chinese' way of thinking and social behavior is completely different. The Greeks have a more individualistic sense of self where they believe that they have control over their lives and it is up to them to choose how they live. Their occupations consist of roles such as hunters, fishers, gatherers which are jobs that can be considered self-efficient where help from others is not required. This is due to the fact their geographical location is perfect for jobs such as those. Their behavior within their own society fosters an environment where one's opinion and sense of personal agency is expressed through debates with one another (2003, 3).

The Chinese on the other hand is completely different. Their work consists mostly of farming. Since they have vast stretches of land, farming requires a great deal of work for everybody which meant that it would be in the best interest for everybody to work together so that the daily chores will be done. This meant that their behavior within their society fosters a sense of harmony where everybody got along and everybody work towards the same goal (2003, 5).

The point that I'm trying to make here is that the geographical aspect of our origins gave way to how we behave with one another and think. The language that is formed from these cultures are simply the representations of our way of thinking and it's not the case that we think the way we do because we're using that specific language. So this means that the South Korean's culture is the reason as to why the crew was not able to efficiently communication their distress to the pilot which resulted in their numerous crashes. Greenburg's claim on the language change cannot be true since the crew members never fully left their own society and therefore are still bound by the standards of the Korean society even while speaking in English.

Sapir and Whorf's hypothesis will be used to explain my next point. Their hypothesis is that no two languages can represent the same social reality because the structure is different and therefore cannot represent the same perception of the reality (Swoyer, 2003). While this seems to support the claim that the social hierarchy of commands is therefore nullified when the language switch happened, it is actually wrong. The language is merely a representation of the behavioral difference between the cultures. It's not true that usage of the language reinforces the ideals of a society, but it is the interaction and time spent within one society that forms one's "reality" that is appropriate to that specific environment.

It is a very simple idea similar to how different cultures have different table manners and one set of table manners might not be appropriate for another. Burping after a meal is seen as gross and unmannerly in Western society, but in some places in Asia burping after a meal meant that you felt satisfied with the meal that was provided by your host. This is also true when it comes to asking for a second helping during meals. Asking for seconds might mean that you like the food and therefore is a compliment for one society, but asking for seconds in another culture can be seen as an implication that the host did not feed you enough to first time around. In that instance, the same event can gives way to two different realities with different results that is dependent on the culture.

Since the pilots are only using English in that limited scenario, they are still bound by the thinking of what a normal South Korean would think. Just because they speak in English, their ability to perceive social ranks should not disappear since knowing their own rank when communicating with others is imbedded into them. It's a skill that is used for majority of their lives when communicating with one another because that is the reality of how the Korean society operates. To say that this ability to perceive such ranks just simply disappears by using a different language in such a restricted scenario is foolish.

Take for example, another Asian language such as Japanese. In Japanese, there are social rank terms that are used to address someone just like the Korean language. The usage of "-kun, -san, -chan, -sempai" are just a few example. These terms

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