LINGUIST List 28.2242

Wed May 17 2017

Review: Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Remillard, Williams (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 22-Jan-2017
From: Peyman G.P. Sabet <>
Subject: Human Communication across Cultures
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Vincent Remillard
AUTHOR: Karen Williams
TITLE: Human Communication across Cultures
SUBTITLE: A Cross-cultural Introduction to Pragmatics and Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Peyman G.P. Sabet, Curtin University

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


‘Human communication across cultures’ is an introductory textbook aimed at providing undergraduate students with a basic understanding of how language is used for communication and how it reflects cultural values. Consisting of 13 chapters, it mainly focuses on three broad areas: what is language, how is language used in different situations (pragmatics) and how is language used for social interaction (sociolinguistics). Each concisely written and well-presented chapter begins with a one-sentence summary, followed by a quote relevant to the theme of the chapter. The main text of each chapter begins with a brief introduction, including thought-provoking and tangible examples from real life situations, and continues with a discussion of the main topic followed by examples from other languages or cultures. The authors conclude the main text in each chapter by presenting a concisely written conclusion. What follows the conclusion is a set of tasks, ‘Additional Activities’, adaptable for homework or classwork, that contribute to the consolidation of the new knowledge. Remillard and Williams end each chapter with website resources and a list of readings for further study.

The authors commence the book with an overview of how language, communication and culture are interrelated. To provide a better understanding of the principles underlying each, Remillard and Williams use a questionnaire to arouse the readers’ curiosity and also use their current views of language as the point of departure. They, next, continue their exploration of language, communication and culture by using four quotes leading to four principles: 1. “Human language is a creative force” (p.7) that underlies every aspect of our life. 2. Human language, as part of an innate gift is far more complex than any other system. 3. Human language, consisting of communicative functions and also associated with their identity, is used as a tool in their interpersonal relationships. 4. Human language reflects their social and cultural values.

I will summarise Chapters 2 to 13 around the four themes roughly outlined at the end of Chapter 1: structural features of language, pragmatic view, sociolinguistic view, and bilingualism.

Chapter 2 focuses on forms of language independent of context. Providing a brief history of linguistics at the beginning, Remillard and Williams offer an introduction to language forms, sounds, grammar, and meaning as language constituents. To begin with, they briefly describe what is involved in the study of phonetics. Their description of sounds in language expands into a scope larger than how sounds in human language are produced and develops into how they are “structured and patterned within a given language” (p. 19). The authors continue this chapter with an introduction to morphology and some examples from French, English and Spanish. To introduce the next linguistic form, Remillard and Williams focus on syntax and explain how words are combined to produce phrases and sentences. To elaborate on the role of syntax, they make reference to the possible SVO combinations in different languages and present an interesting percentage ranking of different SVO combinations in all languages. The last language form they deal with in this chapter is semantics; the discussion initially centres on word definitions, but gradually develops into word relationships such as synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, and metonyms.

Chapters 3 to 8 provide an account of pragmatics and examine different pragmatic forms and functions in English and different cultures. Following a quick look in Chapter 3 at what the study of pragmatics involves , Remillard and Williams address two areas associated with it, entailments and presuppositions, despite still treating them as literal meaning rather than speaker meaning derived from the context. To move on to the study of speaker meaning, they choose ‘context’ (Hymes, 1974) as the point of departure and elaborate on contextual components. In Chapter 4, the authors try to pave the way for a more detailed discussion of pragmatics by introducing ‘speech acts theory’ (Austin, 1962) and the framework it consists of: Locutionary Acts, Illocutionary Acts, and Perlocutionary Acts. What they refer to next is the flaw in Austin’s taxonomy of illocutions followed by a more detailed and accurate classification proposed by Searle (1979) and refined by others. Following a few notes on performative illocutionary acts, Remillard and Williams introduce direct and indirect speech acts and three conditions distinguishing between them, called felicity conditions. Their discussion of cross-cultural speech acts includes examples from different cultures which favoring Rosaldo’s (1982) findings indicate that Searle’s taxonomy is not applicable to all languages. To further develop their discussion on pragmatics, Remillard and Williams in the next chapter introduce routine verbal formulas and their roles in interpersonal conversation. They give examples of where routines occur–opening and closing conversations, expressing thanks, apologizing and complementing–and also how they are used differently across different cultures. To provide a more detailed account of the cross-cultural functions, they examine different terms of address such as kinship forms, pronominal forms, honorifics and phatics. Chapter 6 of the book is allocated to the study of Grice’s (1975) cooperative principle and implicature. As required by any study of the cooperative principle, the authors look at the four maxims introduced by Grice. The next concept introduced in this chapter is implicature, which is followed by cross-cultural examples of cooperative principle and implicature. To conclude the chapter, the authors give examples of why maxims are violated in everyday life. In the next chapter, Remillard and Williams examine the functions of politeness strategies in social relationships. They begin the chapter by referring to the term ‘face’ initially used by Brown and Levinson (1987) and continue with a discussion of face wants which involves negative and positive face wants. In addition, they investigate different politeness strategies and then, through real-life examples, discuss how these strategies are used differently, due to different linguistic and cultural competence. In Chapter 8, the last chapter associated with pragmatics, the authors examine the structure of conversation underlying speaker meaning. The first structural property is turn-taking under which ‘transition relevance place’ (TRP) is raised. To point out where in conversations TRP occurs, adjacency pairs and prosodic signals are discussed with some examples. In the next discussion section, Remillard and Williams examine the roles of overlapping and interruptions in verbal interactions. The second property examined in this chapter is ‘cohesive communicative devices,’ which the authors introduce as repairs, backchannel cues and repetition. They examine stylistic devices consisting of puns and alliterations as the last devices prior to moving on to cross-cultural organizational devices. This chapter ends with examples of how differences in using such devices, due to cultural diversity, can lead to challenges and misunderstanding or misjudgments.

Chapters 9 to12 look at how communication occurs from a sociolinguistic standpoint. To achieve this goal, in Chapter 9, the authors examine how various social factors such as gender, ethnicity, age, social class and geographical locations shape the way language is used. Introducing the concept of idiolect at the beginning, the authors continue this chapter by looking at the relationship between language and society. To provide a clearer picture, they examine the internal variation of language: variations within speakers and variations between speakers. For instance, in the former case, how one changes their language in terms of formality level or uses varying levels of slang depending on the context, and in the latter case how language variations, arising from different social factors such as gender differences, geographical or historical backgrounds, occur among different people. The authors continue the chapter by examining how language changes over time by giving some examples of grammatical and vocabulary changes. Remillard and Williams conclude Chapter 9 by describing how word choice can function as the speaker’s identity marker. Chapter 10 is allocated to the study of how dialects can be the integral part of the speakers’ identity. The authors introduce the concept of ‘standard language’ in their discussion of language varieties initially and point out that ‘standard variety’ is no nonexistent. Terms such as Standard American English commonly encouraged by sociolinguists, therefore, are merely concepts than realities. To clearly discuss what dialects are, the authors contrast them against accents, highlighting the fact that a dialect, arising from lexical, morpho-syntactic, semantic and pragmatic differences, is associated with the way a group of people speak, whereas an accent is an individual feature referring to one’s pronunciation. Giving some real world examples, they conclude that there is no such thing as a strong or heavy accent and “it is all a matter of relativity” (p. 114). In differentiating between language and dialect, they set mutual intelligibility as the first distinctive criterion; if the speakers of two varieties understand each other, they speak varieties of a language; otherwise the varieties are labelled as two different languages. However, the authors present examples which prove the illegitimacy of such a claim and pave the way for labeling each variety as a dialect and each separate language as a ‘prestige dialect’. The rest of the chapter examines divisions of English dialects in the United States, mainly focusing on phonetic variants, lexical variants and morpho-syntactic variants, followed by studying the same areas in other languages. In Chapter 11, Remillard and Williams try to explore how another social variable, ethnicity, can influence speech patterns. Addressing differences in terms of ethnicity and race initially, the authors primarily focus on African American English as a language variety and set it as an example of a language that originated as a pidgin and developed into a creole language. The chapter continues with some general characteristics of African American English: phonetic characteristics, morpho-syntactic, and lexical characteristics. The closing section of this chapter views African American English from the public and political perspectives and concludes that this language is preferred in less formal contexts. Chapter 12 investigates the relationships between language and gender. To be more precise, the authors focus on grammatical gender, gender-biased language and the use of language by men and women in American and other cultures. To begin with, the authors highlight the differences between grammatical gender, physical gender and socialised gender role and continue with 11 conclusions Lakoff (1975) reached in her studies on gender and language in American culture. Next, each conclusion is revisited and examined against recent findings that reveal some discrepancies over time. The authors begin the discussion on gender-biased language with an exercise that aims to present a clearer picture of what it is and move on to some recent movements to neutralise gender bias in language use. To address language and gender roles in other cultures, they focus on grammatical gender, a phenomenon non-existent in English. In so doing, they give examples of nouns and their modifiers that have been assigned gender roles in Romance languages, and also different classifications such as inanimate vs. animate, human beings and non-human beings, rational and non-rational things, to name just a few. For further elaboration, they also refer to exclusive gender differences in other languages, for example, systematic differences in Crib men’s vocabulary, gender-determined morphemes or pronunciation. This chapter is ended by looking into Japanese as a language with more salient gender-based differences in linguistic and pragmatic features.

The concluding chapter is Remillard and William’s views of bilingualism at individual and social levels. They claim individual bilingualism can emerge in various ways; these include being born into a bilingual family and picking up the language from an early age or starting a second language at school. What follows next is two classifications of bilingual individuals in terms of fluency; balanced bilinguals and receptive bilinguals. To offer a more thorough account of individual bilingualism, they also refer to Grosjean’s (1984) study in which overall satisfaction with being a bilingual is reported by bilinguals from different geographical and social groups. Likewise, the authors associate bilingualism with some benefits such as being more intelligent and better at multitasking. As far as the age of turning bilingual is concerned, no definitive answer is provided, but the authors attach advantages to learning a second language before and after the critical period. In terms of code-switching, they state that bilinguals switch codes almost subconsciously with no pauses or any changes in rhythm and tempo and no gap in communication. The last factor at the individual level discussed in this chapter is associated with the linguistic factors categorised as semantic factors and grammatical factors. The authors start bilingualism at societal level with the fact that the match between language use and current geographical boundaries are not always consistent. In terms of language and politics, they bring up the diversity in how countries describe their linguistic realities by giving various examples. Bilingualism in the United States is, next, dealt with in which reference is made to multiplicity of languages used in this country. To add more dimensions to societal bilingualism, Remillard and Williams introduce the term ‘diglossia’ and provide some tangible examples. They continue their discussion by referring to the effect languages can have on each other and then focus on situations in which pidgins are created and developed into creoles. The chapter is continued by a brief look at types of bilingual educational programs, categorised mainly as transitional and maintenance. What follows next is the effectiveness of bilingualism in the United States and the public opinion which keeps switching from positive to negative and vice versa due to “[t]he lack of a universal agreement on the definitions and details of bilingual education (p.179). The authors end the chapter and also the book by assigning a translation exercise that reveals challenges in translation due to morphological or syntactic differences between languages.


Remillard and William seem to have successfully achieved the goals set for the publication of this book. In terms of content, it can offer fundamental knowledge to the beginners in the field As an introductory textbook, the book uses language which is easy to understand for even non-native speakers at different proficiency levels and also those who lack backgrounds in linguistics, pragmatics or sociolinguistics. The authors seem successful in designing interactive exercises which can facilitate understanding and enhance learning. The thought-provoking end-of-chapter exercises, along with the real life examples, make the features under study more salient to students. Remillard and William offer the readers the opportunity to give their understanding of each chapter the desired amount of depth by referring to diverse relevant sources at the end of each chapter; ‘Web Resources’ and ‘Further Reading’.
The book supports the authors’ claim pertaining to the adaptability and flexibility of the text . It can be used as a course book or a self-study resource for a variety of courses and in different countries. Though the chapters are strongly linked together and progress from the analysis of what language is to what constitutes communication and finally how communication occurs in different cultures, each chapter can be studied discreetly or with a varying degree of focus since it gives the teacher the flexibility to assign the end-of-chapter exercises and tasks as homework or classwork.
The other factor that makes the book outstanding is the very well-structured chapters, each of which, avoiding unnecessary sentences, begins with a one-sentence overview of the chapter. Following each overview is an appealing direct quote relevant to the theme of the chapter. Each chapter contains several thought-provoking examples and engaging tasks that can contribute to a more profound understanding of the topic. The bullet point summary at the end of each chapter contributes to the consolidation of the new knowledge and prepares the reader for the move to the next chapter.
Overall, this is a commendable work by Remillard and William. I highly recommend this valuable book as both a textbook and a self-study resource for undergraduate level pragmatics and sociolinguistics courses.


Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Brown, P. & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In D. Davidson & G. Harman (Eds.), The logic of grammar (pp. 64-75). Encino and Belmont: Dickenson Publishing Company.

Grosjean, F. (1984). Life with two languages: An introduction to bilingualism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hymes, D. (1974). Foundations to sociolinguistics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and women’s place: Text and communication. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rosaldo, M. (1982). The things we do with words: Ilongot speech acts and speech act theory. Language and Society, 11, 203-23.

Searle, J. (1979). Expression and meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Peyman G.P. Sabet received his Ph.D. in Language and Intercultural Education from Curtin University in Australia where he is already working as an ESL teaching academic. His research interests include vague language, pragmatics, cross-cultural communication and teacher education. He is currently working on vague language use by language learners.

Page Updated: 17-May-2017