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Review of Pragmatics across Languages and Cultures
In recent years, quite a number of linguistic disciplines have seen the publication of large handbook projects in order to document the state of the art of the specific field and make available current international research to students and scholars alike. The field of pragmatics forms no exception to this trend, with an ambitious, multi-volume ‘Handbook of Pragmatics’ series currently being published by de Gruyter Mouton. One of the challenges of such a project is to segment the complexities and interrelated key topics of a field into digestible morsels without too many overlaps, repetitions and redundancies. The general editors of the project, Wolfram Bublitz, Andreas H. Jucker and Klaus P. Schneider explain their concept of the nine volume project in their preface: the first three volumes lay out the ''foundations of pragmatics,'' (2010: vi) with a volume of that title (‘foundations’) forming the beginning, followed by speech actions (vol. 2) and discourse (vol. 3) as micro and macro level foundations. Next in line are cognitive (vol. 4), societal (vol. 5), and interactional (vol. 6) perspectives. The last three volumes, finally, are dedicated to discussing variability from a cultural and contrastive (vol. 7), a diachronic (vol. 8) and a medial perspective (vol. 9). Three volumes were published in 2010 (vols. 6, 7, and 8), and two, including the foundation volume, followed in 2011 (vols. 1 and 5), while the remaining four (2, 3, 4, and 9) are due to appear in late 2012 and 2013.
Pragmatics across Languages and Cultures (vol. 7), edited by Anna Trosborg, was one of the first volumes in this series available to the reader. Its focus on cultural and contrastive variability promises to bring together studies on cross-linguistic and cross-cultural pragmatics. As the editor points out in her introduction, ''in principle, all aspects of pragmatics may be subjected to cross-cultural comparison, but interest has centered on two dominant areas, namely speech act theory and Brown and Levinson's theory of politeness'' (3).
These two areas, however, are also the explicit focus of two other volumes, (vol. 2 and vol. 6). The topics in this volume mainly cover interlanguage pragmatics, and particularly, pragmatics in L2s and in education and business, even though speech acts and politeness theory are often underlying themes. The concentration on interlanguage pragmatics makes sense considering the long-standing interest of the editor who, as early as 1995, authored a study on the subject (Trosborg 1995). In her introduction, Trosborg sets out to define the differences between the central terms in the volume: contrastive, cross-cultural, and intercultural pragmatics. The first of these types is defined as follows: “[c]ontrastive pragmatics analysis points to language differences as linguistic phenomena” (2). On the other hand, the latter two terms deal with the study of pragmatics phenomena which relate to cultural differences: “cross-cultural pragmatics is used to designate comparative cultural studies obtained independently from different cultural groups”; and “intercultural pragmatics is saved for intercultural interaction where data is obtained when people from different cultural groups interact” (2). The relationship between language and culture is seen here in an emphatically straightforward way (“Language is culture -- culture is language. Culture and language are intertwined and shape each other. The two are inseparable [...],” (2)), which does not take into account the complexities of, for instance, pluricentric languages, multilingual settings, or postcolonial situations.
The 628-page volume consists of altogether 21 contributions by renowned authors in the field which are grouped together in four different parts. Section I (Contrastive, Cross-cultural and Intercultural Pragmatics) seeks to follow a development from contrastive to intercultural interactions and therefore appears as the least thematically homogeneous group. Anna Wierzbicka (“Cultural scripts and international communication”), well known for her work on cultural scripts, uses this tool for a comparison of various speech practices (e.g. making a request, making personal remarks) in different languages. Rong Chen carries out a cross-cultural investigation of a particular speech act in her article, “Compliment and compliment response research: A cross-cultural survey.” Rosina Márquez Reiter and Kang-kwong Luke’s contribution focuses on pragmatic differences in organisational features of a classic in conversation analysis, telephone conversation openings. Their survey not only includes various languages/cultural backgrounds of callers but also a range of different institutional settings (e.g. calls to help lines, general service calls, calls to and from call centres). Unlike cross-cultural investigations of politeness issues, studies on intercultural (im)politeness are relatively scarce. Michael Haugh’s chapter on this issue addresses the difficulties in bringing together a micro perspective (i.e. interactions between individuals) and a macro perspective (i.e. expectations about language use across various cultural groups) and comes up with a number of proposals for the reconciliation of these perceptions. Rong Chen’s second article in the section, “Pragmatics between East and West: Similar or different?,” provides an overview of the long-standing East-West debate, particularly in politeness studies. Finally, Helen Spencer-Oatey’s “Intercultural competence and pragmatics research: Examining the interface through studies of intercultural business discourse” prepares the ground for Section IV through her discussion of various frameworks for conceptualising intercultural competence in business communication.
Section II (Interlanguage Pragmatics) is devoted to the study of non-native speakers’, or L2 speakers’, use and knowledge of pragmatics. Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig’s contribution, “Exploring the pragmatics of interlanguage pragmatics: Definition by design,” provides an overview of research that has been done in this area and gives a quantitative analysis of topics and methods covered in 152 research articles published in different academic journals in the last three decades. Beatriz M. M. de Paiva (“Theoretical and methodological approaches in interlanguage pragmatics”) matches her predecessor’s quantitative analysis with a qualitative overview of the field and argues for an integration of the insights of interlanguage pragmatics, cross-cultural pragmatics, and contrastive pragmatics. Linda Yates’s chapter deals with “Pragmatic challenges for second language learners,” and especially adult L2 learners in the areas of speech acts and politeness issues. One of the more specific areas of interlanguage pragmatics is the acquisition of terms of address in a second language, which is explored by Margaret A. DuFon. She includes insights of L2 speakers’ terms of address productions from classroom studies, computer-mediated communication studies, and studies on students’ performance in this area during or after studies abroad. Naoko Taguchi provides an overview of the development of the field of interlanguage pragmatics since the early 1990s and compares findings of 21 longitudinal studies in the field. A particular focus of the combination of L2 research and pragmatics can be found in Juliane House’s investigation of the pragmatics of English as a lingua franca (ELF). Today, ELF speakers outnumber native speakers of English by far, making ELF studies particularly interesting for interlanguage pragmatics.
Section III (Teaching and Testing of Second/Foreign Language Pragmatics) takes up the issue of the development of learners’ communicative competence in a second (or third) language. In her chapter “Assessing learnability in second language pragmatics,” Satomi Takahashi examines the effects of pedagogical intervention in L2 pragmatics and the factors which limit its success by comparing 48 studies with an experimental design. Speech acts and their significance in L2 classroom instruction is the focus of Esther Usó-Juan and Alicia Martínez-Flor’s contribution, “The teaching of speech acts in second and foreign language instructional contexts.” Winnie Cheng and Pang Cheng look at error correction and self-repair in “Correcting others and self-correcting in business and professional discourse and textbooks.” After a comprehensive overview of relevant studies in this area, the authors add results of an analysis of self-correction in two different corpora, the Business sup-corpus of the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English and the Hong Kong upper form textbook corpus. In the last chapter of this section, “Testing interlanguage pragmatic knowledge,” Jianda Liu provides an overview of interlanguage pragmatic competence assessment in 16 studies in which English is the target language.
The fourth and last section focuses on applied pragmatics in a business environment (Pragmatics in Corporate Culture Communication) as a highly significant and expanding field. Firstly, Hilkka Yli-Jokipii gives an overview of how pragmatic research methods have been used in corporate or business communication. Secondly, Poul Erik Flyvholm Jørgensen and Maria Isaksson take a look at “Credibility in corporate discourse,” and illustrate the pragmatic strategies by which credibility is produced and manifested in corporate discourse. Crisis and risk communication as relatively new areas of study are addressed in Finn Frandsen’s and Winnie Johansen’s contribution, “Corporate crisis communication across cultures.” Christa Thomsen then applies a cross-cultural perspective on the pragmatics of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and introduces the most important theoretical and methodological approaches to the concept of CSR. The final chapter uses a particular example of the construction of CSR in Patricia Mayes’s “Corporate culture in a global age: Starbucks' ‘Social Responsibility’ and the merging of corporate and personal interests.”
The volume’s strong focus on interlanguage pragmatics and pragmatics in a corporate communication setting might have been reflected more in its title since “Pragmatics across Languages and Cultures” seems to suggest attention to mainly cross-cultural research. For those whose interest lies in pragmatics in L2s and in education and business environments, however, this is the volume in the series to select.
It is one of the challenges of handbooks to balance overview of theory and methods with succinct and interesting examples of original research. This is best achieved in Trosborg’s volume in chapters which deal with a particular language practice, such as, for example, Rong Chen’s chapter on compliment and compliment response research. Here, the reader gains a detailed overview of findings from a cross-cultural perspective, which demonstrate the varieties of ways in which speakers compliment and respond to compliments in English, other European languages, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, as well as in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. This diversity in complimenting behaviour notwithstanding, Chen offers a number of generalizations which can be drawn from this rich field of research. They concern: a) limitations with regard to the number of syntactic structures and lexical items in compliments and compliment responses across languages; b) limitations with regard to the topic addressed in the speech act; c) the relationship between complimenter and complimentee, including social factors such as gender and social hierarchy; d) the emergence of taxonomies of compliment responses; and e) ways to scale languages in terms of their pragmatics of compliments. Chen thus succeeds in giving the reader not only a comprehensive overview of the field, with examples from a wide range of languages and contexts, but also in providing analytic conclusions from the findings of existing research. Further highly useful articles deal with distinct language situations, such as in Juliane House’s “The pragmatics of English as a lingua franca.” In contrast to such exemplary articles with a strong speech act or language situation focus, some of the contributions in the handbook attempt to provide a comprehensive, sometimes quantitative, overview of a topic, which then leads to enumeration at the expense of an analytic perspective.
In general, however, the handbook succeeds in providing a thorough and welcomed overview of many established and emergent issues in the field of cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics within the last two decades. It is therefore highly valuable for both the interests of advanced scholars and for classroom teaching. Many of the topics of research, like pragmatic issues in the study of corporate risk communication, are relatively new and there will certainly be more to come in the next decade or two. Consequently, the state of the art given in handbooks should not be regarded as a static and final conclusion, but rather as a promise of future, dynamic research.
Trosborg, Anna. 1995. Interlanguage pragmatics: requests, complaints, and apologies. Berlin: de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Susanne Mühleisen is a Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Bayreuth. Her research interests include language contact (including pidgins and creoles), sociolinguistics, pragmatics, translation theory, and English word-formation. She has published on pragmatics and politeness issues in postcolonial situations, especially the Caribbean.