First Advisor

L. David Ritchie

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Speech Communication


Speech Communication




Intercultural communication, Silence, United States -- Relations -- Japan, Japan -- Relations -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, viii, 148 p.)


It is commonly argued that silence is an important Japanese communication strategy, with the goal of making oneself understood without words; on the other hand, in the U.S., silence tends to be filled by speaking, and speaking up clearly and the facilitation of talking is preferred. However, our knowledge about how silence is interpreted in the U.S. and Japan is weak and based on anecdotal evidence. Therefore, this study examines how people in the U.S. and Japan interpret silence according to contexts, examining what kinds of social rules underlie their interpretation. Interpretation is guided by how people connect ideas. One of the ways to observe how people connect ideas is to have subjects sort words related to silence and compare the way they arrange the words into groups. Multidimensional scaling was used to estimate the underlying dimensions in the way each group sorts the words, and then these dimension were compared. In the comparison of how Japanese and the U.S. associate words related to silence, the most significant difference between Japanese and U.S. subjects was found in the way subjects associate groups of words with contexts. The U.S. subjects had a tendency to interpret silence more positive than Japanese in most contexts. Japanese revealed the tendency to interpret silence more active than the U.S. subjects in most contexts. For Japanese, silence has particular symbolic meaning, and the communicator is often expected to figure out the underlying meaning of silence. When silence is used to intentionally communicate something, it can create uncertainty if the listener is unable to figure what underlies the silence. In U.S., silence is interpreted as positive and less active, that is to say, more internal and reflective. In conclusion, the findings suggest that Japanese interpret silence as a communicative symbol that must be actively interpreted, and this is consistent with most literature, however, they emphatically contradict the stereotype of "vocal Americans", commonly depicted in the literature.


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