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mid-week Connect: 2/8/23 ~ Cultural Fricatives

Greetings and Happy Midweek!

I came across a familiar linguistic term yesterday, and have been thinking about it since - so today, I thought we could explore at least one cultural insight we can gain from this very common phonetic feature of languages around the world . The term is “fricative” and it is partially defined as “denoting a type of consonant made by the friction of breath in a narrow opening, producing a turbulent air flow” (see LINKs below for more details). This exploration fits nicely into the Applications component of Global SKILLs PROACTive learning strategies, since we’ll take the literal function of a term, and apply that figuratively to cultural dynamics.

Fricatives come in all shapes and sizes depending on where they are produced in the mouth and whether they are voiced or voiceless, strong or soft. The distinguishing feature of all fricatives though is that air passes through a narrow opening (between the lips, between the teeth, etc) which produces an audible but disturbed, or “turbulent”, sound.

What struck me, as I thought back about learning the fricatives in my life languages (English, French, Jola, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc) is that they were always kind of easy and fun to hear and produce, compared to other sounds - like for example various types of vowels! And that intrigued me when I applied it to cross-cultural exchanges. We are often stopped short (‘stops’ are a different type of sound!) when we come up against something new in a different culture - like how people behave or something someone has said. Our first reaction might be to avoid or pull away from the difficulty, which in turn might well impede learning about this new facet and moving forward in understanding and eventual integration into the host culture.

But instead, let’s have some fun and act like a culturally aware fricative. Let the air flow through, so to speak despite the turbulence it might cause for us - enter into the difference, explore it with a local friend, observe it in various contexts. I predict the result will be effective just like accurately produced fricatives: perhaps voiced (discussed and appreciated together) or voiceless (internally understood), strong (a major breakthrough in mutual understanding) or soft (a minor tweak in how we choose to interact). Any which way, being ‘fricative-ly’ aware of cross-cultural applications like this can definitely be enlightening!

How about you ~ any culturally fricative moments in your recent interactions?

Share about that with a friend or note it here.

And check out the Global SKILLs LINKs below for some fascinating culturally fricative resources.

Thanks for being part of this Connect community.

Until next week,



~ more on linguistic ‘fricatives’:

~ a Fricative Voice Gesture (FVG) in the Korean language: (the whole article costs $18, but read just this free description - and reflect on how that can ‘apply’ to other cultural gestures)


* Through my business Global SKILLs and several partner subsidiaries I offer unique cross-cultural consulting and training including:

3 Dimensional Dynamics Model: 1st dimension = HOME ; 2nd dimension = HOST ; 3rd dimension = HARBOR)

PROACTive Learning Strategies: PRO = PROfile, PROcess, PROgram

ACT = Application (which we explored this week), Collaboration and Transformation

~ contact me for more information on this model and these strategies and how you might use them in your current programming:

2023 ~ Celebrating 40+ years of working in

intercultural communications and global community building

“It takes a community to build a community”

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