LINGUIST List 23.5125

Sat Dec 08 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics: Auger, Béal & Demougin (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 08-Dec-2012
From: Fabienne Baider <>
Subject: Interactions et interculturalité: variété des corpus et des approaches
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EDITORS: N. Auger, C. Béal and F. DemouginTITLE: Interactions et interculturalité: variété des corpus et des approachesSERIES TITLE: Transversales 31PUBLISHER: PETER LANGYEAR: 2012

Fabienne Baider, University of Cyprus, Cyprus


Published in ''Transversales'' (Peter Lang), a series that publishes worksfocusing on plurilingualism and pluriculturalism, ''Interactions etinterculturalité: variété des corpus et des approaches'' is a collection offifteen articles which identify and contrast interactional strategies(linguistic, social or cultural) that occur in everyday situations andcommunication. The articles present a variety of approaches and disciplinaryorientations in the field of intercultural studies, which attempt to identifynot only general trends in interactional behavior, but also communicativestyles (ethos) that are culture-specific. Fields as varied as languageteaching, conversational analysis and cross-cultural semantics are addressedin these articles, all but one written in French. Languages and cultures suchas French, English (e.g., Australian English), Arabic (e.g., Tunisian andSyrian Arabic) and Italian are contrasted, French being the pivotal languageof most studies. This is a plus in itself, given the few pragmatic studieswith French as the focus -- as the editors remind us. The linguistic aspectsexamined cover terms of address, conversational sequence analysis, speech actsand contextual analysis of interactions. The articles analyse a wide range ofcommunication contexts including naturally occurring conversations, filmdialogues, classroom interactions, answers to questionnaires, andcomputer-mediated communication.

The volume is divided into two parts, each section prefaced with aninformative introduction explaining the rationale underlying the division aswell as a summary of the key points of each chapter. According to the preface,the first section focuses on cross-cultural aspects of communication; thesecond on the intercultural aspects.

The guiding notion of the first section is the concept of ‘communicativeethos’ (cf. Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2002) that would be specific to the languagesstudied. More precisely, the five articles in this first section useconversation and pragmatic analysis of interactions in order to contrastlinguistic strategies across languages and to decide whether they areuniversal or specific to different cultural values.

In the first study of this section, Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni comparesdiscursive functions of nominal terms of address in English and in French. Thestudy focuses especially on the important pragmatic function of this type ofaddress; i.e., framing the interpretation. Contrasting the usages found inFrench (France) and Arabic (Tunisia or Syria) in taped conversations,Kerbrat-Orecchioni shows that two styles can be distinguished by focusing onthese forms of address alone. Indeed the same form of address can be used foropposite illocutionary forces, a polite tone or a spiteful remark. The chapterdraws on this case study to reflect on the methodological and theoreticalpitfalls of studying such linguistic particles and of contrastive studies ingeneral, pointing out, for instance, the difference between pragmalinguisticand sociopragmatic conventions (Thomas 1984).

In the second chapter, Eva Elisabeth Havu compares the use of pronouns ofaddress in French and Italian in a pilot study. After having reviewed thepronoun systems in both languages, her analysis focuses on the pragmatic forceof each pronoun when used in authentic interactions as well as dialogues fromTV programmes. These pronouns manage distance in interpersonal relationshipand this management differs between cultures. A case in point is in theItalian culture, where the less formal forms of address are used more oftenthan in French. Also, French speakers tend to use the polite form of addresscombined with the interlocutor’s first name, whereas this form of address isuncommon in Italian.

In the following chapter, Chantal Claudel explores French and Japanesecomputer-mediated communication, and focuses on opening rituals in emails.Drawing on the most well-known politeness theories (such as that of Brown &Levinson) but also Japanese studies, she analyses the most frequent speech actin this opening ritual, i.e., enquiring about the other’s well-being.Interestingly, her findings offer evidence of many intercultural similarities(same generations across languages will have much in common, for instance) aswell as intra-cultural variations.

In a very precise and careful study based on taped naturally occurringconversations, Veronique Traverso in the fourth chapter focuses on the speechact of ‘objecting to an offer’ in small businesses in France and Syria.Although the customer’s expressing dissatisfaction follows the same pattern ofinteractions, the style of the interaction differs in the two cultures. InFrance the interactions tend to be more consensual, both parties managing theface of the other, and therefore the interactions tend to be lengthier. InSyria, a more confrontational and rather brisk style seems to be favored (forinstance there is no concession on the part of the dissatisfied customer).Given her other contrastive studies involving interactions in these twocultures, she makes an argument for a different style of interaction in thetwo cultures.

In chapter 5 Hassan Atifi, Sacha Mandelcwajg and Michel Marcoccia examinecybermedia and the display of communicative ethos. More precisely, theyexplore further the concept of ‘online communicative ethos’ that they hadsuggested in their previous works drawing on the concept of ‘speech community’(Gumperz 2001 (1968)). Analyzing messages posted on Internet fora addressed tothree different diasporic communities (Moroccan, Jewish Tunisian and French),they identify the specific routines and speech acts (such as the use ofcode-switching) that are expected of insiders or that indicate belonging tothe specific online community.

Bert Peeters’ chapter on Natural Semantic Metalanguage concludes this section,offering a very useful overview of the approach as developed by AnnaWierzbicka and Cliff Goddard. Peeters demonstrates that because themethodology uses a finite list of semantic universals (a limited number ofgrammatical structures, lexical components and syntactic values) that havebeen proven to be common to all languages, the researcher is able to describein the most ‘neutral language’ possible concepts specific to cultures. Peetersuses the speech act of gratitude to illustrate his argument and explainfurther the use of cognitive scenarios whether at the level ofethnopragmatics, ethnosyntax, ethnosemantics and so forth.

The second part of the volume focuses on the relationship to ‘otherness’ insituations where language is crucial, such as in foreign language teaching,and in the professions where socio-pragmatic competence is important to avoidmisunderstanding or mistakes (film dubbing, for instance).

The eight chapters address issues of intercultural competence in languageteaching and the professions involving translations, as these ethno-sociocultural aspects are often neglected because of the focus on developinglinguistic and discursive abilities. Indeed, considering the concept ofidentity as fundamental to language learning or to the act of translating, thesecond section focuses on how to foster an awareness of cultural differences-- as this will allow the foreign speaker to manage potential ‘cultureshocks’, ‘identity clashes’ or misunderstandings independently of the level oflanguage proficiency.

In the first chapter, Jean-Marc Dewaele explores new ways of understandingsociopragmatic competence (the appropriate usage of linguistic forms) inlanguage classes. He focuses on the notion of ‘script’ (Schank & Abelson1977), a script being defined as a schema of a cognitive structure thatapplies to daily situations and defines social roles, expectations andregisters. From results obtained with an online questionnaire, Dewaele studiesthe meta-discourse used by multilingual adults and their preferences for aspecific language to express specific social contexts. In conclusion, theauthor argues that L1 scripts dominate even in bilingual adults and influencetheir sociopragmatic competence in L2, a conclusion that is confirmed by thesubsequent Guillot and Hascoët studies.

In the second chapter, Marie-Noëlle Guillot compares the use of the particle‘mais’ by native French speakers and English students of French duringconversation management before and after their year abroad. The particle‘mais’ is important since it plays a key semantic and interactional role inturn-taking and transactions, and it also functions somewhat differently inFrench than the English, but at the onset of turns. Her study shows that aftera year abroad learners of French are aware of the pragmatic use of ‘mais’ andtake advantage of it. However, they do so to a greater extent than L1 speakersof French and they seem not to have grasped the “greater range of pragmaticvalues of ‘mais’” (p. 247), or at least they do not use them.

In the following chapter, Corinne Weber underlines the gap between theregister spoken in the classroom and the speech of reference used in dailycommunication by the learners. Since textbook explanations and ritualizedclassroom speech are insufficient in explaining and exemplifying how languagework in situ, she favors using authentic documents and focusing on typicalspeech acts or conversational styles (such as irony) as well as on explainingthe differences of daily spoken French compared with classroom speech. The aimis to help students develop a metalinguistic awareness.

The need to develop language learners’ awareness of differences inconversation management in L1 and L2 is also Nathalie Hascoët’s conclusion inchapter 4. The author builds on the Brown & Gullberg (2008) study on theinfluence of L1 on L2, and in particular investigates how a French nativespeaker of English expresses his or her point of view in L2, especially at theonset of the conversation. Three elements are taken into account: the use ofdiscourse markers at the start of the conversation, the repetition of theother person’s discourse and the phrases used to state one’s opinion. Forinstance, French colloquial exchanges are marked differently than those inEnglish (using a ‘preface’ such as ‘mais enfin’, for example). Indeed,Hascoët’s study attests to how L1 influences conversation management in L2.Discussing the differences and using authentic conversation could be two meansto foster awareness and two research areas that her study might pursue.

Computer-mediated communication is Lorenzo Devilla’s focus in the fifthchapter, and especially the opening and closing rituals among Italian andFrench students communicating on the Galanet platform, a European projectcreated to promote and improve communication between speakers of Romancelanguages. Working only on usages found when communicating in L2, the authordescribes how French students use more opening and closing rituals thanItalians do, and use them more often. Moreover, these rituals in French have aneutral tone (“routine standardisée”, p. 305), which combined with thefrequency of usage indicate a distant ethos (“ethos de distance”, p. 314).Italians, in contrast, tend to use longer and more affectionate rituals andalso frequently use other languages in their opening and closing expressions(“marqueur transcodique de proximité”, p. 311), which result in more convivialexchanges. They tend then to display an ethos of closeness (“ethosémotionnel”, p. 313).

Based on Brown and Levinson’s concepts of face-threatening acts and ofpreference in Conversational Analysis, Kerry Mullan’s chapter (chapter 6)argues that “disagreements are not viewed or managed interactionally in thesame way by French and Australian English speakers” (p. 320). Agreement beingthe preferred response, disagreements are known to be longer in AmericanEnglish and prefaced by hedges (Pomerantz 1984). Comparing three types ofconversation (among native speakers and among non-native speakers), the authoranalyses the cultural differences in the speakers’ negotiation ofdisagreements and management of faces. French speakers tend to accept and usemore disagreements in their conversational style than Australian Englishspeakers, a case in point being the several instances of French speakersrelishing the fact of not agreeing (‘je suis ravie de notre désaccord’ ‘I amdelighted we do not agree’).

In the seventh chapter, Caterina Falbo explores the role of interpreters inmedia events such as staged exchanges (debates, speeches, etc.).Intercultural communication being at the heart of interpretation work, theinterpreter has to respect the explicit and implicit cultural norms and valuesat stake in each communicative event. Falbo argues, therefore, that bothspeakers play an active role, which is not always acknowledged in televisedand ritualised exchanges.

In the last chapter of the book, Carlotta Cini compares how forms of addressin Italian and French, as well as ‘small words’ such as ‘un attimo’ (‘onemoment’), interjections and politeness routines are rendered in thetranslation into French (dubbed version as well as subtitles) of Italianfilms. Using the concepts of ethnolect, the study confirms the difference incommunicative ethos in the French and the Italian cultures, i.e., the Frenchdata showing a more egalitarian and less intimate style (fewer forms ofaddress being used, for instance) than the Italian data. Furthermore sheconcludes that inconsistencies in the translation are not only due topractical constraints; it is important to take into account the differences inthe two cultures’ communicative ethos.


As mentioned in the introduction, the fact that French language and culture(from France) is the common denominator of all articles in the book, make thebook a valuable reference tool given the rarity of work in pragmatics thatconcentrate on French. Moreover, the wealth and the diversity of dataexplored (especially welcome is the analysis of new media data, for instance),as well as the range of communicative events taken into account (naturallyoccurring conversation, language learning situations, translations), open newresearch perspectives in the field of cross-cultural communication. There aresome editing problems (bibliographical references missing, spelling mistakes,differing reference styles, etc.), which testify to the pressure under whichediting work is done today. In the last chapter, for instance, some keyconcepts, such as low-kinesic or high-kinesic style, are neither explained norreferenced. Moreover, the quality of research and writing is uneven.

Despite these shortcomings, however, most articles offer precise andsignificant insights into the behaviors and styles examined, and into howlanguage functions in a certain society and at a certain point in time -- acase in point are the studies in second language acquisition as well asTraverso and Orecchioni’s studies, state of the art works of the French school(so to speak) in conversational analysis. Also appreciated is the fact thatwithout undermining their own work, most authors acknowledge the limitationsof their conclusions and call for cautiousness in drawing generalisations(“vigilance dans la portée des résultats”, p.121), given the generally smallsize of the corpora under investigation and the non-asserted representativityof the data studied. Indeed, in the presentation of the first section isfound an appeal to work within an interface of a socio-cultural theoreticalframework and conversational analysis. Surprisingly, a lengthy explanation ofthe MSN framework (pp. 14-15) is provided in the same presentation, althoughonly one article focuses on Wierzbicka’s theory and only sporadic referencesto this theoretical framework are found in the rest of the book. The point iswell taken, though, since this type of interface could be useful to framemicro-analysis in order to extend, strengthen and broaden the conclusions, asWodak’s works anchored in her discourse-historical approach demonstrateconvincingly (e.g., Kwon, Clarke, and Wodak 2009).


Brown, Amanda & Marianne Gullberg. 2008. Bidirectional crosslinguisticinfluence in L1- L2 encoding of manner in speech and gesture: A study ofJapanese Speakers of English, Studies in Second Language Acquisition 30,225-231.

Gumperz, John. 1968. ''The speech community.'' International encyclopedia ofthe social sciences: 381-6. Macmillan . Reprinted in Alessandro Duranti, ed.,2001. Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, pp. 43-52. Malden, MA: BlackwellPublishing

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Catherine. 2002. Système linguistique et ethoscommunicatif, Cahier de praxématique 38, 37-59.

Kwon, Winston, Ian Clarke & Ruth Wodak. 2009. Organizational decision-making,discourse, and power: integrating across contexts and scales, Discourse &Communication 3 (3): 273–302.

Pomerantz, Anita. 1984. Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments. Somefeatures of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. Maxwell Atkinson andJohn Heritage, eds., Structures of Social Action, pp. 57-101. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Schank, Roger C. & Robert P. Abelson. 1977. Scripts, Plans, Goals, andUnderstanding: An inquiry into human knowledge structures. Hillsdale: N.J.Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thomas, Jenny. 1984. Cross-cultural discourse as unequal encounter: toward apragmatic analysis, Applied Linguistics 5-3, 226-244.


Fabienne Baider is an Associate Professor at the University of Cyprus, Cyprus.Her main research interests include language and gender, cross-culturalsemantics, and discourse analysis.

Page Updated: 08-Dec-2012