When Words Begin Wars - Anthropological Ideas to Assist in International Diplomacy
Does power emanate from the use of a word itself, or does perception of the intended use of the word mean more? Perhaps both are important when it comes to interpersonal communication and diplomacy. No matter the culture, human nature has a gamut of psychological behavior that comes into play when a perceived threat has occurred – and one of them is: Becoming angry.
In the recent decade, military analysts have realized that words and actions have impact in international communication and military intervention. http://www.merip.org/mer/mer255/culture-weapon Interestingly, while perceived threat can cause a negative reaction – the instance of misunderstanding is almost never what has started the problem in the first place. In fact, a ‘word’ can become the straw to break the camel’s back.  One anthropological concept, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Linguistic Determinism model, states language and words people use reflect how they think. http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/SapirWhorf.htm If this is true, then learning how conflict can originate due to language and words is important.
This type of situation is called a Conflict Spiral.  Imagine if you will a tornado, it is thin on the bottom and wide at the top and is spinning out of control… It has a mind of its own and is difficult (if not impossible) to stop. A conflict spiral can be viewed in the same way. 1) A moment of offense has occurred and has been unresolved. 2) Added upon this are further negative perceptions and feelings. 3) By the time the conflict spirals into a giant problem – it becomes difficult to understand what the particular offense was that started the whole thing in the first place. It is at this juncture that just one word may cause a severe problem, but understanding the bigger picture – was it just the word?
Cultural understanding and sensitivity can be learned by actually examining the importance and significance of words of that culture.  For example, in the Inuit (Eskimo) language it has been proposed that there are approximately ten words to describe the word: Snow. The reason for this is that snow is a very integral part of the Inuit environment.  Native Americans have a unique way of describing things, and view them as having a spirit. Thus in English one would say “The pencil is on the table.” However, in the Native American description this sentence would more likely be constructed “The pencil is resting on the table.”  It is therefore important to analyze how to connect and relate to others in various cultures, to study their language and to ascertain what is important in their perception. In so doing, the ethnocentric dilemma may be kept to a minimum. 
It can be understood that language can also be used as a tool to dissuade or incite tension. Understanding how conflict grows can assist in deescalating further crisis. Words can be used to manipulate and purposefully amplify conflict; whether appropriate or not. Many misunderstandings and clash of culture conflict spirals exist at present. One example of a language offense occurred recently in the Middle East. On December 14, 2010, Brett Dykes penned an article revealing an instance of culture clash and language rival. “U.S. military angers Iran by calling Persian Gulf ‘Arabian Gulf’ http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/u-military-stokes-iranian-anger-call... )
Another such issue has recently occurred wherein Russian President Vladimir Putin used terminology in a New York Times op-ed article “A Plea for Caution from Russia." http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-ru... ) In his article, Putin used the term “American Exceptionalism.” It is said this term incited members of United States Congress to anger. The words issued by Putin have also created media attention, followed by remarks of the United States President, Barak Obama. “Obama Blasts Putin’s New York Times Op-Ed and Critics of The Syrian Resolution.” http://www.businessinsider.com/obama-vladimir-putin-nyt-op-ed-syria-assa...
While these instances are evidence of earlier strain, it can be viewed that the Conflict Spiral has continued to escalate and that words and language usage have been construed to further escalate the problem; or to manipulate occurrences. The conflict has thus taken many forms; not only in proxy military action, but also in verbal intensification.
Research has shown that a technique entitled "Saving Face" can assist in deescalation of the Conflict Spiral. This technique allows the other entity to receive some needed respect in the middle of the disagreement. By allowing concessions and by giving the other some ability to have some power in the struggle, the fight becomes further deescalated, having less wind to continue in the destructive path. This technique encourages both parties to not humiliate or disgrace the other, thus limiting further escalation of conflict. It is said the Cuban Missile Crisis was negotiated in such a fashion. http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/face
As is with many relationships, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be productive. Yet, if after a good strong try to understand the other and to make things work, the other still does not want to make up and play fair – there are only a few options. While it must be recognized that there is always a chance that upset cultures, governments and military enemies can be complex to engage; and many times for ulterior motives, it may be best practice to attempt to gain some further insight into where the conflict spiral began and how to begin to make it blow away.
Wilmot, Hocker, 2001 – Interpersonal Conflict, sixth edition
Katg travel service, http://katgwa.weebly.com/conflict-spiral--how-to-manage-conflict.html
Erik Du Plessis, 2010– Language & Culture, http://www.erikdup.com/Language___Culture_UHPX.php
David Robson, 2013, Washington Post, Health and Science, There really are 50 Eskimo ords for ‘snow’ http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-14/national/36344037_1_eskimo...
James Eder, 2001, Cultural Anthropology, Arizona State University
Miriam Webster Online Dictionary, “Ethnocentric,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethnocentric