Chapter 3: Communication Through Expression

Once again in chapter four, we see another incident regarding language barriers. Gen Wantanabe has proven to be a highly important character due solely to the fact that he has the power of interpretation. Without Gen’s assistance throughout the course of the party, or now a hostage situation, the entire of the book could have potentially been altered towards a totally different direction.

Due to the importance of emotions in Bel Canto, I decided to do some research and find out if emotional forms of communication really are universal. A study conducted at the University of London compared around 20,000 people from both Britain and Namibia and they were able to find that the basic emotions are indeed universal. Professor Scott, a Welcome Trust Senior Research Fellow says, “People from both groups seemed to find the basic emotions – anger, fear, disgust, amusement, sadness and surprise – the most easily recognizable.”

The participants in the study listened to a series of short stories each pertaining to a particular emotion. For example one of the stories involved a tragic death of a family member; once the story came to an end the British group heard sounds of laughter and crying from the Himba and the Himba heard sounds of laugher and crying from the British. Each group was able to pick which emotion matched the story which concludes that yes, emotions are universal.

All humans are alike in that we share the characteristic of having complex systems of communication in attempt to convey ones thoughts, feelings, and intentions. These feelings can be conveyed through the use of language, facial expressions, sounds, and even posture in some cases. People of all different professions such as anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologist have all dedicated a substantial amount of time in order to solve the question, “Are our facial expressions all inborn or are they learned through culture and education.” A lot of times it’s a matter of genetic or learned behavior. Learned behavior such as a baby smiling back at his parents are things that we pick up through daily interactions. Another example is when people often times people act the same way that the people they choose to hang around act. Charles Darwin on the other hand concluded that if animals show innate behaviors that humans must have something too and he was right; we have a lot of it. There is a lot of evidence that supports the idea that people share the connection to expressing emotion. Blind people know to smile when they and even blind babies know to cry just as seeing babies do. This analysis goes back to the finding in a previously performed study about facial expressions and how they too are recognized across a wide range of cultures. The language of facial expressions is also prevalent even in primates such as chimpanzees and other mammals.

Although we as humans have the same strategic way of communication, the way we communicate varies from person to person. Cultural differences play a larger role in this barrier due to words, phrases, and body language. This is evident in Bel Canto and Gen at one point even admits that he struggled with conveying the emotions of one person to another person of a different culture.

However, just because language is a barrier in Bel Canto doesn’t mean that this group of people are incompetent of the feelings and emotions running throughout the room. Yes, language is defined as a method of communication consisting of the use of words structured and conventional way but many studies have been done that could potentially challenge that definition. Emotions, facial expressions, and body language have all shown signs of a being a minimal way of effectively communicating. Of course this in no way shape or form equates to the power of a spoken or written language but I find it remarkable that people from all over the world are able to relate no matter what type of background one may have.

Even though emotions are considered to be a universal form of communicating, when in a high stress situation such as the one in Bel Canto, I can see how it could be difficult to understand what other people are feeling just by judging their emotions. Language barriers are defiantly an element that can heighten the stress of this situation. While the Accompanist is suffering, the priests and Gen are translating back and fourth about the death that is about to occur making the experience of death different than one in which everyone belongs to the same culture.

Wellcome Trust. “Everybody laughs, everybody cries: Researchers identify universal emotions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2010. <>.

Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Are Emotions Universal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2015, from


One thought on “Chapter 3: Communication Through Expression

  1. Michael Pedersen says:

    Very interesting post. I did my blog post for chapter three on language barriers as well so it was refreshing to see the topic taken from a different angle.

    Much of your current research references children and babies. It would definitely be interesting to look into how facial recognition develops in younger children and if there are any studies among a range of differently aged babies to see if there is some type of pattern matching that develops as the child grows older.

    When you mentioned the “previously performed study about facial expressions” I was somewhat disappointed that you didn’t mention the source of that study previously because it seems like it could have contributed well to your previous argument about non-language oriented forms of communication. Also, to back up your claim that cultural differences play a large role in inhibiting communication you could go back and cite directly or look at the sources of Hannah’s Chapter 1 “Japanese Etiquette and Soap Opera” in which she noted how Gen, the translator consciously recognized that people wouldn’t understand the Japanese etiquette of bowing deeply.

    Another curious extension to your research would be to explore if humans are more likely to revert to using body language and facial forms of communication when confronted with high stress situations like the one presented in the book. Messner, for instance, begins to act very cold to the Generals and wasn’t as talkative in this Chapter which might be caused by his anger about the release only some of the women.

    Overall, I’m interested to see how language barriers present themselves in subsequent chapters and how emotions are conveyed regardless of such barriers.


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