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LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY

Intercultural Communication

WHAT IS A DISCOURSE APPROACH?


The first chapter serves as a kind of extensive introduction to the whole book. It
touches upon the topic of interdiscourse communication and its elements. The basic claim is
that language is ambiguous and as a discourse goes on we can only try to reduce this
ambiguity but we cannot remove it completely. The book approaches the topic on the
example of professional communication, mainly in business contacts between Asians and
westerners.
Intercultural communication focuses on people in social interactions with each other and not
on abstract communication systems. This approach seems to be closer to life and to real
situations. In such an approach we study what is really happening and not what could
happen if something was a case.
A language is a kind of a system which contains not only words and their meanings, not only
grammatical rules but also a set of rules surrounding language, telling when and how a given
language can be performed. The example might be the fact that Japanese people tend to
leave the most important message to the end of their conversation whereas English native
speakers like to start with such a message. Also, they pay attention to different issues in a
different way. Language influences our world perception and it also shapes our attention.
This statement brings to mind the linguistic relativity principle. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
claims that the language that people speak shape their view of reality, their perception of
the world. Therefore, speakers of different languages think and behave differently. However,
I believe that we should not learn English separately from the culture and from the rules of
communication. So, by learning a new language we also learn the rules for thinking in this
language. Obviously, it is impossible to change our thought habits completely, but by
switching the language we also switch a thinking code. Therefore, it should limit the
influence of cultural differences on the conversation between the speakers of English
language that come from two different cultures. However, as the article proves, we cannot
reduce the discrepancies entirely.

Language is ambiguous at all levels and what is important, this ambiguity is inherent. Instead
of trying to eradicate it we should find solutions for dealing with it. When we communicate
with people we jump to conclusions but it is unavoidable. It is like everyone has their own
world and a discourse is at the borders of these worlds, however we can never achieve a full
understanding of the other. The problem is that our inferences are drawn very quickly and
tend to be fixed. It may result in different assumptions about the goals of a conversation and
in miscommunication.
Nowadays, English becomes the international language. If you want to obtain a job on a
higher position you have to know English. Most job interviews for management positions are
performed in English. English professional communication (as understood in the article) is a
part of everyday life of many employees. However, we cannot forget that apart from
different culture background we are also a part of many other groups, such as gender,
generation or occupational group and this also have a great impact on our communication.
While reading the chapter, I found quite surprising a statement that the claims sometimes
made about the role of non-verbal communication are wildly exaggerated. The truth is that
the percentage concerning non-verbal communication is often given. Very often we hear
sentences like 80% of communication is body language. And, as the article points out, it is
absurd to try and quantify social behavior. Nevertheless, this does not prove that non-verbal
communication does not play the crucial role in social interactions. The numbers and
quantities might be impossible to estimate but we could still say that body language is
extremely important. The chapter, however, concentrates on the role of language in
interdiscourse communication as the authors believe that this in a central focus for the
participants of that communication.
The research conducted by the authors is based on ethnography. It is a method in which
researches go to the places where their interest of study takes place and observe what
happens in the real-life situations. In my opinion this is one of the best research methods as
it allows for deep investigation of the object under study. It is a natural approach, however
we cannot forget that the observer changes his or her surrounding in some way. My
research for MA thesis was conducted in a similar way. I studied the language used during
English lessons by dyslectic children in a situation of a classroom. To my mind, it is the best

method if we want to check what is really happening and if we do not want to limit ourselves
to abstract concepts.
HOW, WHEN, AND WHERE TO DO THINGS WITH LANGUAGE
The objective of this chapter is to examine the scenes and events in which our
communicative actions and activities take place. The authors main interest is in professional
communication. The main assumption is that language is ambiguous and it is impossible to
be completely clear about all elements of the message that we want to convey. What is
more, we need to make inferences about what our speaker actually means. Shared
knowledge is the basis on which the speakers read between the lines during their
conversation. This chapter focuses on shared knowledge of actions and situations.
In order to understand the speech correctly several kinds of knowledge are required. The
author makes a distinction between sentence meaning (that is the knowledge of grammar)
and speakers meaning (the knowledge of context). For a proper interpretation of a meaning
these two kinds of knowledge are necessary. For example, the speech act of asking for the
time is an instance in which interpreting the sentence meaning only is not sufficient. The
meaning of sentences can be interpreted by understanding the context of speech in which
they occur. If we can interpret the speakers communicative intentions it means we know
the rules by which the context is constructed. The authors refer to it as the grammar of
context.
The chapter enumerates several components for a grammar of context: scene, key,
participants, message form, sequence, co-occurrence patterns and manifestation. The first
element, scene, includes a physical location, time, purpose, topic and genre. The proficient
professional communicator would know which spaces are most appropriate for which
purposes. What is more, he or she would consider the influence of the position in space on
the communicative situation. The second element, key, refers to the tone of communication.
There is much variability among cultures in this aspect and the wrong interpretation of key
may lead to uncomfortable situations. Next, we should consider the participants of a speech
situation who they are and what their roles are. Sometimes, non formal relationships are
more important than the formal ones and this fact should be taken into account in order to
understand a given context. The knowledge of the most effective message form may

contribute to the successful communication. Also, the sequence of events is important in


speech situations, especially in intercultural communication. In different cultures the similar
events may occur with different order of events and therefore cause confusion. If the
knowledge of sequence is part of our shared knowledge it helps us to avoid
misunderstandings. The understanding of the last component of the grammar of context,
manifestation is quite important in dealing with intercultural communication. Some things
are explicitly known and others remain tacit. In human communication it is impossible to
make every aspect explicit. Too much explicitness would make the sentences sound strange
and hostile. What is more, in human communication we sometimes prefer to be less clear
and obvious in order for the other person to show his or her involvement by reading ones
hidden intentions. An important aspect of shared knowledge is not only knowing the things
that are unexpressed but also knowing that they should not be made explicit.
While reading the chapter, several issues arouse my particular interest. The first concerns
the aspect of teaching. The author states that in order to understand a communicative
situation we need two kinds of knowledge the knowledge of the sentence and the
knowledge of context. The truth is that in teaching a foreign language, like English for
example, we very often forget about the context and focus mainly on grammar. The English
greeting sentence How are you might serve as an example. In Poland students are taught
that this sentence means: Jak si masz? in Polish. However, very often they are not given
the context. Therefore, if they hear the question How are you? they very often answer
with their real feelings and do not treat this as a greeting ritual. If they were placed in a real
life situation they might be negatively surprised if someone asked them How are you? and
walked away.
The second much interesting issue is the influence of the position in space on discourse. It
seems to me that the permission to handle a discourse goes to authorities. Therefore, in a
way, a discourse also means power. For instance, during a board meeting there is one
person in charge of a discourse who determines the agenda of a meeting and allows
different people to join in a discourse or not. This person is usually seated at the head of a
table and occupies the most space. In this way, the architecture of a room supports the
power of a discourse. The similar situation occurs in a classroom. The teacher is in position
of power, he or she determines the contents of discourse and may allow or forbid others to

join in a conversation. And again, the position in space works in support of their position as a
leader in a communicative situation. A teacher usually has the biggest desk in a room,
situated at the front of the class and is free to move around whenever he or she wants to,
contrary to students who are put in a limited space and their movements is space are
hampered.
The third issue is the fact that even though language is ambiguous and many things are tacit
it is not necessary for everything to be explicit. Some things are not openly stated and it is
fine for them to remain so. If it was not like that, we would not be able to create
outstanding works of literature because a great part of this branch of art relies on reading
between the lines.
INTERPERSONAL POLITENESS AND POWER
The aim of this chapter is to address the issue of the development and maintaining of
the identities as participants in speech events in interpersonal communication.
In communication, apart from the places that participants occupy in social structures and the
position they take in speech events, there is a third aspect, namely the interpersonal identity
of the individuals in communication. The chapter introduces the concept of face understood
as the assumed and negotiated public image in a communicative event. It is the core interest
of politeness theory.
There are two sides of face involvement and independence and both of them must be
projected at the same time in any communication. Involvement, referred to as positive face
or solidarity involvement, includes strategies that involve paying attention to others, finding
similarities with them or using first names. Independence, on the other hand, consists in
allowing participants for individuality, autonomy and making minimal assumptions about the
interests of others. It is also called negative politeness. Involvement is associated with
speaking and volubility whereas independence with non-communication and taciturnity. Any
communication act is a risk to face because focusing too much on any of these two aspects
carries a threat to the other. It is essential to keep balance between them.
We reduce the ambiguity of communication by making assumptions about the people we
are talking to. We also analyze the relationships between us and our speakers. On the base

of these assumptions we often decide how to address our interlocutors. We can also
negotiate our relationship in the process of developing our relations. Usually, however, face
relationships remain stable. It is the case in formal institutions where the relationship is
established at the beginning and is rarely changed. Relations between a teacher and pupils
in a school situation or between a doctor and a patient may serve as an example. It seems to
me that we also like to show other people that we are consistent in what we think and how
we behave. Therefore, any change in projecting oneself in society may result in discrediting
and stigma.
The author mentions three elements connected to the politeness system: power, distance
and the weight of the imposition. On the base of the first two, three kinds of politeness
system were formed, namely deference politeness system, solidarity politeness system and
hierarchical politeness system. Deference politeness system refers to such a system in which
participant see themselves as equals and use independence strategies in communication.
Therefore, it is symmetrical (-power) and distant (+distance). Relations between members of
government are based on this system. Next, solidarity politeness system evinces the features
of symmetry (-power) and closeness (-distance). This is a system of two close friends who
see themselves as equals and use involvement strategies in communication. The last system
hierarchical politeness system is asymmetrical (+power) so the participants recognize
difference in social status and they use different face politeness strategies in
communication. The person in a higher position uses involvement strategies and the person
in a lower position independence strategies. This system is present in many organizational
relationships, such as business, governmental or educational organizations. The threat of
misunderstanding arises when any participant of communication uses the wrong politeness
strategy. Such a situation is common across the boundaries of discourses as it is difficult to
notice the subtle differences in face projections. This may result in a wrong assessment of
the initial system of hierarchy and further in uneasiness of the participants of
communication.
Power and discourse are interrelated. Differences in discourse systems are also differences
in the position of power. To my mind, discourse works sometimes as a mirror of power
relations. Many of the subtle relations between people can be discovered by a careful
observer on the base of the conversation between them.

The interesting example of politeness strategies at work is relationship marketing. In such


relations, initially between two strangers, we would expect deference politeness system, as
strangers usually prefer to keep some distance between them. However, a sales
representative who uses the relationship marketing strategy would limit the distance and
aim at solidarity politeness system by using the involvement strategies.
CONVERSATIONAL INFERENCE: INTERPRETATION IN SPOKEN DISCOURSE
The chapter focuses on dealing with miscommunication and on analyzing the
processes used by participants in communication to interpret meaning.
As have been stated earlier, language is ambiguous. There are two main kinds of this
ambiguity: external and internal. External ambiguity is connected to knowing the context of
interpretation and internal to knowing which elements go together to form a whole and how
we signal that to each other. The author claims that coherence is this form of signaling that
all the pieces of information create a whole. The chapter presents different forms of
coherence in communication: cohesive devices, cognitive schemata and adjacency
sequences, prosodic patterning and conversational inference.
Cohesive devices are indicators of the connection among elements in communication. There
are many different types of cohesive devices. For instance, reference that is the use of
pronouns and definite articles to make a connection within a discourse, the proper use of
tenses or conjunctions which are lexical items which show the relationships between two
clauses. They are extensively taught as a part of formal instruction in English as a second
language and some learners find them problematic. The complication is that some
conjunctions may occur in their marked position at the beginning of the two clauses which
they relate and such a placement causes ambiguity in real-time processing.
Cognitive schemata refer to regular patterns of activities. There are three general types of
knowledge which people use to interpret discourse: scripts, world knowledge and adjacency
sequences. World knowledge is a vague concept, it does not form any particular sequence of
elements. It is simply the knowledge of the way the world usually works. Adjacency
sequences are schemas that occur in day-to-day discourse, predictable sequences of event.
They are used at transitional points in discourse and ease the conversation by giving a

predictable order to the discourse. They help to achieve fluency. They are important to know
how to interpret meaning in discourse, however they are limited to a sequence of a few
turns.
Prosodic patterning consists of intonation and timing. Intonation is mostly stress and tone
contours. The significant term in this area is contrastive stress which is used to indicate that
the speaker recognizes the unmarked assumptions being made and that they are not
entirely true. Oral discourse works one turn at a time and so it is easier to check quickly if
our assumptions are correct. Also, the interpretation of when it is ones turn to speak which
is influenced by intonation is one of the most crucial aspects of conversational discourse. As
far as the concept of timing is concerned, the timing of interturn pauses is the most
important aspect. People feel that it is their obligation to produce a smooth discourse and
any disturbance is received with negative feelings. Conversationalists differ in their
expectations about how long the pauses should last and this may result in one person
dominating the conversation and the other feeling frustrated. Usually, longer pauses are
associated with independence politeness strategies and so with deference face system.
Shorter pauses, on the other hand, are linked with involvement strategies and solidarity face
system. In hierarchical face system, the length of pauses depends on the position. However,
it may also work the other way round. If one speaker uses shorter pauses and the other
longer they may develop a hierarchical system as one person would dominate the
interaction and take control. Such a situation may occur in communication between a native
speaker of English and a person learning English as L2. Longer pauses of the speaker whose
English is a second language may cause an impression of the lack of fluency and finally, of
the lack of linguistic and intellectual competence. In intercultural discourse prosody is often
the most ambiguous feature.
Communication is ambiguous but central to human activity. Therefore, we try to find the
ways of dealing with this ambiguity. The interpretive process, the innate human ability to
make inferences is called interactive intelligence. This process is easier when
conversationalists share a common background. However, in international communication it
may cause some problems as historical and cultural backgrounds may significantly differ.
Conversational inference is a central aspect of interactive intelligence and it is an important
cognitive process. It is not conscious, though it is an outcome of social practice. Therefore,

it is difficult to change this process through conscious reflection. But we can still analyze and
improve our interdiscourse communication.
TOPIC AND FACE: INDUCTIVE AND DEDUCTIVE PATTERNS IN DISCOURSE
The chapter presents the reasons for using deductive and inductive strategies for
introducing topics and it analyses the source of power disparities in discourse.
The important aspect of successful communication in knowing the topic of a discourse. The
author introduces two patterns for the introduction of topics: inductive and deductive. The
inductive pattern consists in giving the arguments first and then the conclusion and is
associated with Asian way of speaking. In the deductive pattern linked with western
communication the topic is introduced first and then supporting arguments are presented.
We use both patterns in order to reduce the ambiguity of the discourse. However, the threat
of misinterpretation arises when two participants of a discourse have different assumptions
about which pattern will be used.
The deductive discourse pattern arises as a result of interplay among several factors. The
face politeness is the key one. Others include adjacency sequence, turn exchange and
timing. In deductive rhetorical strategy the prevailing sequence is call-answer-topic
sequence in which the topic belongs to the caller. It means that the person who starts a
conversation is somewhat obliged to introduce the main topic. Introducing a topic is an
involvement strategy. Similarly, short interturn pauses are an involvement strategy.
Therefore, the deductive pattern may lead to a situation in which the person who introduces
the topic uses shorter pauses and may dominate the discourse. This is called deductive
monologues. The inductive rhetorical strategy works best when the speaker assumes that
what is being said is true and only needs a demonstration.
In the inductive pattern we know that the topic will be introduced but we cannot say when
that will happen. The sequence here is call-answer-facework-topic. This allows for the
person who starts a conversation to take into account other participants preferences. The
speaker is unsure if the listener will agree with his or her conclusion.
There is a strong link between the deductive rhetorical strategy and a face politeness
strategy of involvement. As an involvement strategy is used in solidarity politeness system,

we could assume that in this system the participants would feel free to introduce topics. The
inductive rhetorical strategy is connected to deference politeness system where participants
prefer the strategy of independence and avoidance of direct introduction of the topics. In
hierarchical politeness system the person in a higher position would rather use deductive
pattern and involvement strategy whereas the person in a lower position would follow an
inductive strategy and independence strategy. The wrong interpretation of which strategy is
used and why is a chief reason of miscommunication about what the topic of the discourse is
and may result in negative attitudes of the participants of communication.
There is a conviction that inductive rhetorical strategy is an Asian strategy of
communication. Asian relationships are based on Confucianism and therefore they are
hierarchical. In the Asian discourse the person in a higher position has the right to speak first
and to introduce the topic. The person in the lower position is supposed to send a greeting
and wait if he or she receives the right to introduce his or her topic. Such a system may be
the source for stereotypical interpretation of their behavior. The authors claim that these
two patterns deductive and inductive should not be called western and Asian as they
both are used in both Asian and western communication. The use of a particular pattern
depends more on a situation and the expectations of participants.
I found the chapters very interesting. One thing is to be aware of the cultural differences,
but the other is to analyze the language of such intercultural contacts. The main interest was
placed on the communication between Asians and English native speakers, however I
believe that conclusions may be generalized as I found many aspects similar to our contacts
with English native speakers. Obviously, Polish people and English people might have more
in common ( and therefore their shared knowledge might be more extensive) than Asians
and English people, but many mechanism work in the same way. For instance, the face
relationship strategies in three politeness systems would look similarly irrespective of
culture. The awareness of patterns and rules that govern interdiscourse communication
may help in business contacts to avoid miscommunication and negative attitudes between
the participants of communication. It is not enough to know the grammar of the language
only but the knowledge of context may help to correctly interpret the speakers meaning.