Scollon, Ron, and Suzanne Wong Scollon (2001) Intercultural Communication:
A Discourse Approach, 2nd ed. (first ed. 1995), Blackwell Publishers,
ISBN: 0-631-22418-1, xv+316 pp. (Language in Society 21).
Reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc
School of Modern Languages, Department of Linguistics,
The Australian National University
Blackwell Publishers offers their readers an introduction and a practical
guide to the main concepts and problems of intercultural communication from
the linguistic point of view and in the framework of interactive
"Intercultural Communication" is a newly revised edition which underlines
the authors' methodology and theory. Beside the full text of the original
edition, it contains several clarifications, a new section in the
Introduction dealing with the distinction between cross-cultural
communication and intercultural communication (or 'interdiscourse
communication', as the authors prefer to call it), and a new final chapter
which outlines the methodology used in this book.
The reader finds out what intercultural communication is from the Preface to
the first edition: "the entire range of communications across boundaries of
groups or discourse systems from the most inclusive of those groups,
cultural groups, to the communications which take place between men and
women or between colleagues who have been born into different generations".
The authors argue that each of us is simultaneously a member of many
different discourse systems because virtually all professional communication
is communication across some lines dividing us into different discourse
groups or systems of discourse.
In the authors' view, the discourse system involves four elements: a group
of ideological norms, distinct socialization practices, a regular set of
discourse forms, and a set of assumptions about face relationships within
the discourse system.
"Intercultural Communication" is also an essay in applied sociolinguistics.
It addresses mainly professional communicators (i.e. for whom communication
is a major aspect of their work) who are East Asian speakers of English (and
their teachers in courses on professional communication), and professional
communicators who manifest an interest in any communications which cross the
lines of discourse systems. Mention should be made that the book has been
field-tested in Hong Kong.
The Scollons emphasize the practice of professional communication between
people belonging to different groups, especially face-to-face conversation
within speech events such as meetings, conversations, or interviews, i.e.
situations in which people are directly in social interaction with each
other. Their goal is mainly to develop the necessary vocabulary and concepts
for a straightforward analysis of intercultural communication.
The book focuses in particular on intercultural professional communication
involving western native speakers of English and of East Asians (especially
Chinese), the discourse of men and women, corporate and professional
discourse, and intergenerational discourse.
The practical basis of the authors' research is the methodology of
ethnography, based on fieldwork, participant observation, "strange making"
(when a person takes up the dual status of participant and of observer), and
The first chapter tries to define the discourse approach and points to the
authors' distinction between cross-cultural communication and intercultural
communication. 'Discourse' is mainly referred to as referring to the
functional uses of language in social contexts (chapters 1-3 and chapter 5).
However, chapter 4 deals with discourse understood as the study of
grammatical and other relationships between sentences (i.e. cohesion).
Chapter 2 focuses on how, when, and where to do things with language. The
authors introduce the notion of 'grammar of context', i.e. the rules by
which contexts are built. In the Scollons' view, such a grammar has seven
main components: scene (including setting, purpose, topic, and genre), key
(the tone or the mood of a communication), participants (who they are and
what roles they are taking), message form (speaking, writing, silence, other
media), sequence (set or open agenda), co-occurrence patterns (marked and
unmarked), and manifestation (tacit or explicit).
Chapter 3 - Interpersonal politeness and power - introduces three main types
of politeness systems based primarily on whether there is a power difference
and on the distance between participants. The three politeness systems are
deference (an egalitarian system in which the participants maintain a
deferential distance from each other), solidarity (also an egalitarian
system in which the participants feel or express closeness to each other),
and hierarchy (a system with asymmetrical relationships, i.e. the
participants recognize and respect the social differences that place one in
a superordinate position and the other one in a subordinate position).
Chapter 4 focuses on conversational interference: interpretation in spoken
discourse. It turns the focus toward miscommunication, pointing to such
topics as the ways of understanding discourse, lexical and grammatical
cohesive devices, world knowledge, prosodic patterning, metacommunication,
and interactive intelligence. It offers a broader framework for the analysis
of professional communication between members of different groups or
Chapter 5 Topic and face: inductive and deductive patterns in discourse.
Solves problems like the cause of longer, fixed patterns in discourse and,
very interestingly, the causes of the differences between the so-called
Asian (inductive) and western (deductive) patterns for the introduction of
topics in discourse.
Chapter 6 Ideologies of discourse: talks about the three concepts of
discourse discussed in this book and visualizes the components of the
discourse system, i.e. made up of ideology, socialization, face systems, and
forms of discourse. It also introduces the utilitarian discourse system,
which began to develop in the seventeenth century an which emphasizes
egalitarianism in public discourse, and presents multiple discourse systems.
Chapter 7 tries to define the complex notion of 'culture' and points to the
major dimensions of culture to influence the understanding of systems of
discourse and, moreover, intercultural communication. The authors deal with
such aspects as ideology (beliefs, values, and religion), socialization,
forms of discourse, and face systems. A very important topic is
stereotyping, defined as a way of thinking that does not acknowledge neither
internal differences within a group, nor exceptions to its general rules or
The remaining chapters focus on interdiscourse system communication and on
the problem that it raises, namely that while the words may be understood,
the meanings are interpreted within a cultural envelope created by the
discourse system from which a person speaks. Chapters 8 and 9 discuss two
voluntary discourse systems.
Chapter 8 concentrates on corporate discourse, focusing especially on the
two main types of discourse systems: i.e. goal-directed or voluntary systems
(such as corporate cultures and function-oriented discourse communities),
and involuntary discourse systems (such as generation and gender).
Chapter 9 discusses professional discourse systems, mainly that of ESL
teachers, illustrating how conflicts may arise between membership in one's
professional discourse system and membership in the corporate discourse
system of one's employment.
Drawing a parallel between American individualism and Asian generational
differences, Chapter 10 focuses on generational discourse and points to the
fact that the differences between generations are a particularly acute
problem in organizational communication.
Chapter 11 deals with gender discourse, a relatively new subject of
discourse research, but a discourse which cuts across culture and
generations, corporate culture and professional specializations. The main
idea is that there will be major differences between the discourse system of
women and that of men even within an otherwise very homogeneous group, such
as members of the same generation within the same ethnic group within the
Finally, chapter 12 (newly introduced in this second edition) addresses the
question of using a discourse approach to intercultural communication. It
also defines the theoretical framework used in this book, a framework rooted
in three principles: the principle of social action, the principle of
communication, and the principle of history, society, and culture. This
chapter contains suggestions to analyze and improve interdiscourse
communication and to help teaching, training, research, and consultation
services in business and governmental sectors.
Designed for either classroom use or self-study, the book addresses students
and teachers studying English for professional communication, English for
special purposes, or courses focusing on communication in professional or
business contexts. It is also a unified presentation of course topics from a
range of diverse fields such as discourse, sociolinguistics, first and
second language acquisition. Mention should be made that the book comes as a
result of over twenty years of research on intercultural
intra-organizational communication in North America as well as in Taiwan and
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this study is the
bi-directional approach to improving professional communication between
members of different discourse systems. On the one hand, it is important to
have an increasing shared knowledge, i.e. to know as much as possible about
the people with whom one is communicating. On the other hand, the ambiguous
nature of language is one major source of difficulties in interdiscourse
communication and, therefore, dealing with miscommunication plays a special
role in improving professional communication. The Scollons are right to
argue that the professional communicator is one who has come to realize his
or her lack of expertise.
Laura and Radu Daniliuc are the authors of the first Romanian translation of
Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique g�n�rale (Curs de lingvistica
generala, Editura Cuv�ntul nostru, Suceava, 1998) and of Descriptive
Romanian Grammar. An Outline (Lincom Europa, Munich, 2000).