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How Culture Defines the Meaning in Space and Rhythm

“Given that what is salient is culturally determined, members of different culture groups are likely to have different hierarchies of salience…”

Kless and van Leewun have managed to make clear the cultural difference of text and image structure without referring to the structure of spoken language. Since speech is the only way I have seen structure define meaning across cultures, the whole idea of physical and temporal structure defining meaning across cultures was new to me (haha, maybe that’s why the new centric structure was introduced after the left-to-right structure, subjecting us to the before and after model of given to new).

But it makes sense, right? Not all cultures structure their text in the same way. Why would they? We assign different values to different things. In fact when I think about it, it would be so wrong for all cultures to arrange things left-to-right. Not only at face value, but on an ideological level as Kless and van Leewun explored. It seems kind of philosophical, so to speak, to say that the centric structure model is mainly found in Eastern cultures because of an emphasis on group identity. At first I thought it was kind of a stretch of an explanation. How could the arrangement of text be an expression of such a broad value?

The authors also pointed out the contrast in left to right reading. In this structure, there is no group identity. There is a before and an after, a given and a new, a flow but not an even distribution found in a centric structure. Again, the difference in structure here represents the difference between Eastern and Western cultures, to some extent.

The Centric structure, to me, seems to rely on outdated principles. Well maybe not outdated, but certainly not Western modern. I was reminded of the Geocentric model of the universe, back in the good old days when the most important aspect of a system had to be in the center. This was also reflected in religious paintings from the Renaissance.

As time wore on, our salience structure took on new form, moving from left-to-right (which had already existed) to top-bottom, leaving the centric model behind. This article summarizes what is perhaps a Western stereotype- that Asian cultures are still lagging behind Western ones, waiting to catch up. Is this possibly a reason for the authors’ analysis? Are they seeing structure through the lens of their own subscription to Western Stereotypes?


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