Comm Professor Focuses on Cultural Aspects of Communication

Benjamin Bailey
Friday, November 8, 2013

Professor Benjamin Bailey (communication) has been studying intercultural communication since high school, but he says all of us have been studying communication since birth. Communication, Bailey notes, is how we learn how to be a person in our society.

A trip to Germany as a high school exchange student sparked Bailey's interest in intercultural communication and social identity. “I spoke very good German," he says. "I’d studied it long and hard, but even though I understood the words people were saying, they often did things that didn’t make sense to me." After graduation, Bailey completed an independent major in intercultural communication at Brown University. Then, at UCLA, his master’s thesis looked closely at communication patterns among Korean storekeepers and African-American customers. His PhD dissertation, also at UCLA, became a book entitled, Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity. A Study of Dominican Americans. Since then he has written many articles and chapters on race, code switching, bilingualism, immigration, and intercultural communication.​

Currently, Bailey is working with graduate students on various projects, including the ways talk was used in the occupy movement and the democratic model of turn-taking that seems to go against certain parts of human nature. He is also working on another paper focused on how people keep track of references in spoken Chinese and the difficulties non-native speakers face when translating tapes and not knowing who is being referenced because words like “he” and “him” are not used. He also has plans to write a textbook about language and race.

This marks Bailey’s 13th year at UMass, teaching classes that focus on the cultural aspects of communication and language. His most rewarding experience, he says, is being able to see that a large percentage of his students begin to think in new ways. “That’s what we’re here for," he says, "not to impart facts to you, but to have you grow. I like it when I can see that growth over the course of a semester. That's why I like teaching.” Bailey says he also enjoys talking to students about anything they want to, not just things discussed in class. Perhaps that's why he has been a recipient of the SBS Outstanding Teaching Award for innovative pedagogical approaches, exceptional performance, and endorsements by students and colleagues.​