LINGUIST List 29.2857

Tue Jul 10 2018

Review: Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics; Translation: Assimakopoulos, Kecskes (2017)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 05-Jan-2018
From: Dongmei Cheng <>
Subject: Current Issues in Intercultural Pragmatics
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Istvan Kecskes
EDITOR: Stavros Assimakopoulos
TITLE: Current Issues in Intercultural Pragmatics
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 274
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Dongmei Cheng, Texas A&M University

Current Issues in Intercultural Pragmatics. Istvan Kecskes & Stavros Assimakopoulos (Eds.). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 369 pp. Hardback, ISBN: 978-90-272-5679-9.


Targeting intercultural communication, this volume is the newest volume of the new Pragmatics & Beyond series published by John Benjamins. Papers included in this volume were selected from those presented at the 6th International Conference on Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication, which took place in May/June 2014 at the University of Malta. These papers represent a wide array of interdisciplinary works, all focusing on pragmatics in social interactions in different contexts, including lingua franca communication, business communication, cultural perceptions, translation, and pragmatic development.

The first part contains two papers that are more theoretical in nature. In Chapter 1, Robert Crawshaw argues for an emancipatory approach to pragmatic analysis. An emancipatory approach analyzes real-life data by considering contextual meaning which emerged from the negotiations between conversation participants. Interpersonal relations are placed at the center of this approach. Three features of communication are illustrated in this chapter through a case study of student-mentor conversations: determinacy, or how determined the speaker is in making a statement, power/distance, and intensity. Results show that personality factors and affect played an important role in the intercultural communication between the English language assistant and her French faculty mentor. Chapter 2 by Jörg Meibauer argues that Grice’s first maxim of quality is largely based in Western cultural beliefs and cannot be used to interpret the lying behaviors in non-Western cultures due to social and cultural variations. For example, in collectivist cultures such as China, lies are more acceptable when they are told for the purpose of face-saving and modesty, usually for the benefit of others, whereas in individualistic cultures such as the U.S., lies told to benefit the self are more acceptable.

Part two focuses on lingua franca communication. In Chapter 3, Arto Mustajoki provides explanations for the seemingly controversial observation that more cases of miscommunication are found in everyday life than in lingua franca conversation. The key for any successful communication lies in the proper use of recipient design, which is the adjustment speakers make in their language use for the recipients of the conversation. In daily life conversations with acquaintances, people seldom conduct recipient design because they do not view it as necessary; however, the lack of recipient design usually leads to miscommunication due to the differences in the mental world of the conversation partners. However, in lingua franca conversation, the participants are aware of their cultural and language differences at the beginning and thus are more careful in adjusting their language use for the clarity of meanings. In Chapter 4, Fabienne Baider and Maria Constantinou identify a newly emerged lingua franca in a transnational corpus containing online posts by supporters of the extreme-right Greek political party Golden Dawn. Analyses of the avatars, pseudonyms and lexical units used in the corpus show the discussants’ common values related to Christianity, the pride in the Self (i.e., the Greek people), and the threat seen from the Other (i.e., the non-Christian immigrants).

Business communication is the targeted area in Part Three. In Chapter 5, Belinda Camiciottoli reports a contrastive analysis of European versus Asian business conference calls. Analyses of pragmalinguistic features in the Euro and Asian corpora indicate different intercultural communication approaches affected by not only cultural orientations but also the participants’ professional goals and the technology-mediated setting. For example, speakers in the Asian corpus used more formal forms of address and fewer intensifiers, which was influenced by the emphasis placed on social status in the Eastern cultural orientation; however, their verbal choices in asking questions contained fewer hedging terms and were rather direct, which was against the indirectness style emphasized in the Eastern cultural orientation but resulted from the goal-oriented interaction style of business communication. Speakers in the Euro corpus used more informal forms of address and more intensifiers, corresponding with the Western cultural orientation; however, more features of indirectness (e.g., hedges) were used in the Euro corpus, which was against the presumed cultural orientation but was a way for the speakers to establish rapport and extract more information from the business executives. In Chapter 6, Sofie Decock and Anneleen Spiessens discuss the company refusal strategies and customer disagreement strategies in two corpora of German and French business emails. Results show that while business employees utilized more downgraders and external modification to soften their refusals to customers’ complaints, customers were more direct in their disagreement. Comparisons of the two corpora also revealed differences in the communication styles of French and German speakers in business settings. French business employees and customers were shown to use more direct strategies and to adopt a more elaborative style, compared to their German counterparts.

The three chapters in Part Four are about cultural conceptions of speakers of different language and cultural backgrounds. Chapter 7 by Jessica Haß and Sylvia Wächter reports the self- and mutual perceptions of two cultural groups in Spain, Germans and Spaniards, during the European debt crisis. Interview results show that both groups held mostly positive mutual perceptions, although their perceptions of self were more critical. The European debt crisis did not seem to impact the mutual perceptions of the two cultural groups, yet the Spaniards’ self-perceptions were shown to deteriorate during the debt crisis. Chapter 8 by Ulrike Schröder presents conversation analysis results from a group of Brazilian and a group of German students who were studying abroad. Participants from both groups reflected on key concepts of cultural evaluations, namely punctuality, openness, directness, and individualism. Chapter 9 by Gila Schauer investigates the English and German native speakers’ impoliteness perceptions in a questionnaire and post-hoc interviews. Results suggest that the two groups shared similar views about impolite behaviors; however, their views about inappropriate behaviors differed, with German speakers holding more negative perceptions of verbal attacks compared to British speakers.

Part Five includes two chapters on the topic of intercultural pragmatics in translation. Chapter 10 by Monika Pleyer analyzed the impoliteness strategies used by the characters in the German translation of Harry Potter novels. Text analysis results reveal that impoliteness strategies are used throughout the story as a way to attack the opponent’s identity. Also, German translation of the Harry Potter novels demonstrates many simplifications to appeal to children, who are seen as in need of more help in understanding the character development in the original story. Chapter 11 by Olaf Seel presents examples from German-Greek language pairs to demonstrate the misunderstandings caused by lack of cultural and pragmatic knowledge of the translators and interpreters. For instance, the Greek free hand gesture has eight possible interpretations depending on different contexts and speaker goals. Therefore, successful interpretation of the Greek free hand gesture is a rather complex task for interpreters, who have to be not only culturally competent in both cultures but also experienced in recognizing and interpreting non-verbal cues in communication.

The last part of this volume consists of four chapters on different aspects of pragmatic development. Chapter 12 by Naoko Osuka reports a study of the development of pragmatic routines of Japanese learners of English over a one-semester study-abroad in the U.S. Data collected via a multimedia elicitation task was analyzed for the frequency of pragmatic routines. Japanese learners were shown to experience little development of pragmatic routines over the one-semester of studying abroad, and they were either not aware of the routines or were hesitant to use them since they did not appear in formal language instruction. Chapter 13 by Ziyad Ali and Helen Woodfield presents a cross-sectional study of Syrian EFL learners’ development in interlanguage requests. Learners from three different proficiency levels supplied English requests in a written discourse completion task. Results show that learners of higher proficiency levels had a higher frequency of usages of both external and internal request modification devices, although the type and frequency of these modification devices used by EFL learners were not comparable with the ones used by English native speakers. Chapter 14 by Phyllisienne Gauci, Elisa Ghia and Sandro Caruana examines the pragmatic competence of Maltese future teachers of Italian, who produced requests and complaints through role-play and discourse completion tasks (DCTs). Their pragmatic performance was then rated by native speakers of Italian. Results show that student-teachers of Italian L2 encountered difficulties in pragmatic productions due to their lack of awareness of contextual variables and that more difficulties were shown in role-play than in DCTs. Finally, Chapter 15 by Laura Maguire and Jesús Romero-Trillo investigates the bilingual teacher’s use of pragmatic markers through analyzing a corpus of bilingual classroom interaction over a span of six years. Results show that teachers used pragmatic markers as topic starters and attention-getters more frequently in the early stages of bilingual education.


The chapters in this volume illustrate the socio-cultural turn in the field of pragmatics, a multifaceted field bridging different areas of interests. Kecskes (2013) explains the pragmatics of intercultural communication using the socio-cognitive approach, which “unites the societal and individual features of communication, and considers communication a dynamic process in which individuals are not only constrained by societal conditions but they also shape them at the same time” (p. 74). In other words, meaning conveyed in communication is co-constructed by participants, who utilize both their prior experiences and actual situational experiences as they are interacting with others. At the center of intercultural communication are the concepts of interpersonal relations and recipient design. These two concepts are manifested in multiple chapters of this volume. In Chapter 1, the emancipatory approach places a great emphasis on interpersonal relations, and the relevant power and distance between the conversation participants are analyzed. In Chapter 3, the proper use of recipient design in lingua franca communication is shown to reduce misunderstanding from happening. In Chapter 5, the interpersonal relations between the business analysts and executives play an important role in shaping the communication styles of business conference calls of companies in different world regions. In Chapter 6, the interpersonal relations between the business employees and customers help to explain the differences found in refusal and disagreement strategies used in business emails.

The wide range of authentic communicative contexts included in this volume illustrates that the current trend of intercultural pragmatics focuses on meanings as they are being negotiated in social interactions. This trend differs from the traditional notion of pragmatics, which analyzes utterances obtained via artificial means, such as via a discourse completion task. Researchers in pragmatics should be excited to see that more real-life communication data has been gathered and analyzed in this volume. For example, four chapters in this volume report the use of corpus analysis in different aspects of intercultural pragmatics. Chapter 4 analyses the lingua franca features in a transnational computer mediated corpus. Chapter 5 includes a semantic analysis of the European and Asian corpora of financial discourse. Chapter 6 builds on a German- and French-language business email corpus and analyzes the speech acts associated with customer complaint emails. Chapter 15 reports a longitudinal corpus-based analysis of pragmatic markers in bilingual teachers’ talk of classroom management.

The different communication contexts included in this volume are eye-opening for researchers in pragmatics who are looking for new paths to explore. This volume also adds a welcoming addition to pragmatic research in instructional settings with the last five chapters on pragmatic development, which are empirical studies that are either longitudinal or cross-sectional in nature. Compared to the huge number of previous studies which describe the production or perceptions of pragmatic utterances of certain speaker groups in only one setting, more studies reporting L2 users’ developmental trajectory in pragmatics need to be conducted, following the examples included in this volume.

In all, “Current Issues in Intercultural Pragmatics” is a comprehensive volume of new pragmatics studies that should be of interest to not only pragmatic researchers but also scholars in related fields, such as corpus linguistics, communication, cultural studies and translation practices.


Kecskes, I. (2013). “Why do we say what we say the way we say it.” Journal of Pragmatics, 48, 71-84.


Dongmei Cheng earned a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics with distinction from Northern Arizona University in 2013. At Texas A&M University-Commerce, Dr. Cheng teaches both face-to-face and online courses in TESOL and Applied Linguistics to graduate and undergraduate students. As a sociolinguist, she is primarily interested in interlanguage pragmatics, especially the acquisition of speech acts from second language learners. Another research interest of her is second language writing, which is resulted from her years of composition teaching to students from different cultural backgrounds and experiences in TA training. Additionally, she is interested in adapting new technological tools in language teaching and teacher training programs. She has presented regularly in TESOL, Applied Linguistics, and second language writing conferences and published her research in a number of peer-reviewed journals. Her recent work also includes a monograph on China’s Generation Gap (in press by Routledge), an interdisciplinary study she co-authored with a sociologist, Dr. Jiaming Sun. She taught a wide range of TESOL, linguistics, and ESL courses at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Northern Arizona University, and Winona State University. She also worked as an English language instructor in different institutions in China and as a translator in the past.

Page Updated: 10-Jul-2018