The pragmatics of cross-cultural communication

  • Tannen D
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The study of cross-cultural communication is a paradigm example of the insepar­ ability of linguistic theory and application. Linguists study cross-cultural com­ munication for its applied significance, which is enormous, given the heterogeneity of societies affected by global migrations and the increasingly cross-cultural nature of commerce, diplomacy, and personal relationships throughout the world. And we also study cross-cultural communication because it provides a discourse analog to the starred sentence in linguistic argumentation. By examining interactions in which habits and expectations about how to show what is meant by what is said are not shared, we can see semantic processes-how language means-which are harder to observe in the seamless surface of successful communication. I will illustrate the range of aspects of communication that can vary from culture to culture by discussing and exemplifying eight levels of differences in sig­ nalling how speakers mean what they say. These aspects of ways of speaking are not extra-linguistic nor even paralinguistic but are the essence of language. Just as physicists understand the nature of physical elements by observing their behavior in various environments and in interaction with other elements, so we come to understand the nature of language by observing it in communication and in contact with other systems of communication. In analysing the pragmatics of cross-cultural communication, we are analysing language itself.

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  • Deborah Tannen

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