Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Elena Bratishenko (University of Calgary, Canada)

The Pitfalls of Learning a Foreign Culture Soon after the fall of the Soviet Union homosexuality was decriminalized in the Russian Federation. Two decades later, a drastic increase in the Russian popular and official opposition to homosexuality culminating in various legislative amendments adopted in the recent years intended for the protection of the rights of minors has attracted a lot of attention in the West. The nature of the gap between the two sides: what in Russia is considered by many as protection against the influx of threatening foreign values is seen by the West unambiguously as prosecution of homosexuality is examined through the lens of culture as a cognitive system. The analysis has important practical implications, namely: biases may in fact be reinforced through mechanical import of foreign signs that have different meaning in the target culture. The factors contributing to the discontinuity between the external and internal perception of a certain social or cultural phenomenon, the danger in a mechanical transfer of one cultural context to a different setting, the distortion of essence in a translation that can only be detected if regarded from both perspectives, is comparable to the shortcomings and a complete loss of idiomatic meaning in machine translation. The analogy with language in approaching cultural gaps is based on Talmy's (2000) claims that culture is an independent cognitive system that co-evolved with language. Talmy asserts that culture is represented in the cognition of the individual and constitutes deeply internalized conceptual-affective patterns and behaviours. (This hypothesis opposes the idea of a linguistic worldview specific for every given language, for example as developed by Šmelev (2002), and echoing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity, in turn originating with Wilhelm von Humboldt). The interpretation of the English-speaking media of the still-shot of two Russian female athletes kissing on the podium after winning a relay race competition a couple of years ago and the shock at this interpretation in Russia is an example of a non-linguistics expression that can only be understood in context.