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Review of  Language and Intercultural Communication in the New Era

Reviewer: Gail AlHafidh
Book Title: Language and Intercultural Communication in the New Era
Book Author: Farzad Sharifian Maryam Jamarani
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 25.2364

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“Language and Intercultural Communication in the New Era”, a volume edited by Farzad Sharifian and Maryam Jamarani, brings together articles written by renowned experts in the field of linguistics to address key issues related to intercultural communication in the context of today’s globalized and increasingly technical society. The book is organised in three sections: Theoretical Advancements, New Technologies and Intercultural Communication, and Intercultural Communication in Context. In the opening chapter, Sharifian and Jamarani provide a brief history of the study of intercultural communication and an overview of what they consider to be the growing complexities associated with the study of intercultural communication.

Part 1: Theoretical Advancements

Part 1 addresses the first of those complexities: theoretical advancements. Claire Kramsch’s paper, “History and Memory in the Development of Intercultural Competence”, adds a new dimension to the notion of intercultural competence. In previous writings, Kramsch has argued that language is culturally bound but that culture itself is constantly evolving; hence the dynamic nature of intercultural communication (Kramsch, 1993, Kramsch, 1998). Here, she explores the connection between individual and collective narratives and further notes the subjectivity of both and its impact on students trying to learn a foreign language. If students of another language want to excel in that language, since language and culture are interdependent, Kramsch argues that they also need to understand the historical context behind the target language and culture, as part of their understanding of the discourse. The issue, however, is that histories are written from a variety of perspectives, further confusing the learner. Kramsch examines the portrayal of historical events in two German language textbooks, one from the U.S. and one from Germany. Her conclusions reveal that textbooks can present topics with decontextualized prompts and an assumed familiarity with the events described, disregarding the complexity of multiple perspectives.

In the third chapter, Istvan Kecskes separates linguistic knowledge from ‘encyclopedic knowledge’, or knowledge of the world. Kecskes argues that interculturality has both fixed and emergent, dynamic components, in contrast to Nishizaka (1995) and Blum-Kulka (2008), for example, who argue that it is a situationally emergent phenomenon. Kecskes’ socio-cognitive framework makes the commonplace assertion that communication is a two way process with both parties co-constructing the discourse. However, he extends this idea to include the notion of interlocutors relying on pre-existing encyclopedic knowledge (the norm) and of that that emerges in the interaction. This results in an evolution of intercultures as interactants from different mother tongues communicate via a common language while representing different cultural norms. Kecskes could have argued further that even two such interactants would represent different perspectives of their own ‘cultural norms’ so that any interaction between two different people would result in an emergent interculturality, thereby producing a multiplicity of interculturalities. He concludes his chapter by reiterating the notion of intercultural discourse being about ‘transformation’ of knowledge and behavior rather than simply a ‘transmission’ of knowledge.

In the final chapter of the first section, Farzad Sharifian discusses the emerging field of Cultural Linguistics and explores its application in the study of varieties of English, intercultural communication and metacultural competence. He reflects on the fact that cultural knowledge, even within a given cultural group (if such a thing exists) is “heterogeneously distributed” (p. 63) thereby recognizing that individuals within that group will all exhibit variations in the understanding of their own culture, and that understanding is not static as it is co-constructed and reconstructed with each interaction. This chapter successfully draws together the first three chapters by recognizing the need for further research into the many different factors affecting cultural and intercultural competence.

Part 2: New Technologies and Intercultural Communication

Part 2 starts with an exploration by Fred Dervin of the notion of ‘interculturality’ and by taking a social construction approach, he looks at the politics of identity construction using sociodigital technologies. His findings suggest that interculturality is far less an obvious or tangible construct than previously asserted and that following on from the findings of Banks and McGee Banks (2009), there are many other influences on the construction of identity in addition to culture, such as gender, class, generation and so on.

Wendy Anderson and John Corbett also focus on CMC (computer-mediated communication) and look at how online interactions can deliver opportunities for students to develop intercultural competence without physically experiencing the target culture by visiting it personally. Similarly, Hyisung Hwang and David Matsumoto look at CMC but with a focus on non-verbal behavior (NVB) in online intercultural interactions, suggesting that awareness of its impact is equally important there as it is in verbal communication. However, they draw several distinctions between CMC and FTC (face to face communication) in the areas of temporality, anonymity, modality and spaciality. Referring to current research, they suggest that CMC can be synchronous or asynchronous as with online chat rooms or email, and anonymous since it is possible to hide one’s identity in some modes. The modality can be varied from written to spoken and can include graphics, audio, and visual enhancements, yet limiting in terms of spatial control. Walther (1994) and Derks, Fisher and Bos (2008) all conclude from their studies that CMC is far less impersonal than previously thought, and Matsumoto and Hwang point to the fact that even text can carry NVB in terms of discourse markers and punctuation marks to express surprise, for example. Their study on the interculturality of emoticons in text and chat point to the fact that despite being universal symbols of emotions, emoticons may fail to express the degree of that emotion through technical limitation,s and could lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Sarah Pasfield-Neofitou draws a distinction between the users of CMC according to their age and identifies them as ‘digital natives’ if they have grown up with ICT (Information and Communications Technologies), i.e. if they were born after 1980. This is significant, she argues, as current research suggest that there may no longer be such a native/non-native distinction between participants in CMC but rather a distinction in their use of technology to communicate. She concurs with Matsumoto and Hwang in their conclusion that the use of emoticons and their interpretation, but also net-slang and technological skill can be culture- and language-specific and therefore digital intercultural competence requires an added set of skills for the interactants.

Magda Stroińska and Vikki Cecchetto focus specifically on the use of emails between international students and their instructors and the effects of email language on perceived levels of politeness, specifically in making requests. They conclude that since students use so many different forms of CMC informally (chat, texting, social networks) this informal writing style spills into what might have been a more formal interaction previously and could be misconstrued as rudeness or lack of formality. They suggest that it is the responsibility of the universities to set out netiquette guidelines for all CMC users to avoid confusion. Even with such guidelines, however, emails are often misinterpreted between native speakers since the text may be written quickly and without much thought for the impact of the message discourse.

In their chapter, Anthony J. Liddicoat and Vincenza Tudini consider the power dynamics between native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) in online chat situations. They suggest that the NS takes on almost a pedagogical role or ‘didactic voice’ and assumes a certain status as a result, with an asymmetry of power. If both interactants are able to access each other’s language this does not appear to happen.

Peter Cowley and Barbara E. Hanna in “Anglophones, Francophones, Telephones: The case of a disputed Wikipedia entry”, discuss the potential use of Wikipedia as a source of debate on intercultural representations of ‘fact’ in the classroom. They cite differences in entries and quoted sources depending on the language of entry into the Wikipedia site. Wikipedia, they argue, could be viewed as a rich forum for student discussion on intercultural interpretation, and allow opportunities for identifying culturally-bound facts, sources and arguments.

Part 3: Intercultural Communication in Context

The final section of the book looks at intercultural communication in specific situational contexts. In the first chapter, Jo Angouri and Marlene Miglbauer consider the working environment and challenge of operating in a variety of languages in this increasingly globalised society. IC, or intercultural training, has become ‘de rigeur’ especially for workers at management level in international companies, but the authors raise a concern that this training is often reduced to a set of restrictive set of behaviours or linguistic features that appear to be generic to the target culture. They argue that there are other varieties of language that feature in business communication, not just the lingua franca of the company. In some cases, there are multiple L1s present in the workforce. There is also ‘corporate talk’ (business terms familiar to those in the related industries) and ‘company speak’ (acronyms and terms peculiar to one company). The authors conclude by calling for a more complex acknowledgement of multilingual contexts in the workplace and urge that IC be much less one-dimensional and move to embrace all aspects that feed into the intercultural communication process.

Mikaela L. Marlow and Howard Giles also look at a workplace issue but focus on one specific context: Chinese immigrant females seeking healthcare in the U.S. They cite traditional roles of women in China and suggest that decisions such as those involving healthcare may have previously been decided by fathers or husbands, and that therefore the experience is not within their schema. Research conducted by Weitz (1989) and Berger (1979) draws attention to the fact that situations such as these are culture-bound and that these Chinese women may not have either the cognitive framework or the cultural knowledge to deal with the situation. In healthcare scenarios, the ability to communicate and understand information can be life-saving. The authors suggest that an accommodation framework modelled on the theory of the same name (Gallois, Ogay, and Giles 2005) is essential to create equal access in the U.S. for all patients. Suggested best practices include using social networking to transmit culturally relevant healthcare information that accommodates linguistic diversity.

Andy Kirkpatrick, John Patkin and Wu Jingjing turn their attention to multilingualism both teachers and students, and draw attention to the fact that there are more NNS of English than NS, although this statement is loaded with a perceived notion of the meaning of the term ‘NS’. They positively endorse the benefits that NNS teachers bring to the English classroom in terms of richness of cultural diversity and cultural proximity. For example, in the Asian context cited, the teachers are able to discuss through ELF (English as a lingua franca) topics of common interest rather than a remote culture-bound topic that may be presented in the English textbook. Thus the profile of intercultural competence is raised and the important role of multilingual and multicultural teachers is recognized.

The final chapter moves to Europe and a discussion of the experience of ‘tandem learners’ (NS and learners of each others’ language) and their different interpretations of a word. Jane Woodin concludes that the difference in perceived meaning of a word between a NS and a NNS should be exploited by teachers, as the distinction between NS and NNS becomes evermore cloudy. Students need to be aware that dictionary definitions are culture and context-bound and that there may be varieties of interpretation possible.


This volume ties together key topic areas concerning the relationship between culture and language in our increasingly globalised world, with particular reference to pedagogy and the workplace context, and the impact of CMC on those. Sharifian and Jamarani succeed in presenting a snapshot of current research, and in doing so, reflect the complexity surrounding the issue of intercultural communication, both its scholarly tradition and modern interpretations. Their stated goal in the introductory chapter is to provide a “forum for exploring some of the challenges and possibilities” (p. 17) for the study of intercultural communication. The editors have drawn on acknowledged experts in the field of linguistics and the analyses and research studies reflect that. While the volume is clearly of interest to academics and students of linguistics or language pedagogy, it is written with accessible clarity that would also allow non- experts in the field to draw a deeper understanding of the main issues.

In terms of layout and structure, the book is arranged thematically and this is largely successful with section 1 focusing on the definition of culture and the notion of what intercultural competence entails. Section two looks at the relationship between technology and interculturality. This section flows slightly less well if it is being read chronologically. However, Cowley and Hanna’s chapter on Wikipedia seems out of place and might have been better suited to the more general discussion of intercultural communication in section 1. In section 3, there is a collection of unlinked chapters that serve their purpose as isolated contextual and situational discussions of the phenomena of interculturality.

Kramsch’s closing comment that “intercultural education needs both memory and history” (p. 37) is a lofty goal, but one that is in conflict with what publishers of textbooks are likely to aspire to achieve. Publishers need to sell textbooks that have a generic appeal, to maximize sales, unfortunately. The acknowledgement of the significance of the historical context of language and culture is clearly important but how far teachers and learners can embrace this extra dimension between teaching and learning linguistic competence and that of intercultural competence remains problematic and is not addressed in detail in this chapter.

Kirkpatrick, Patkin and Jingjing’s article captures the essence of the reality of the emerging demands on teachers to be both multilingual and multicultural. This phenomenon needs greater attention and investigation. Similarly, Kramsch’s article on the limited perspectives currently presented in textbooks highlights an important area for further research. It would also have been useful to have an additional chapter following the current status of ELF to link to Kramsch’s paper relating those discussions to the world of academia for both students and teachers, and the globalized business world in the context of the ‘New Era’. A closing chapter by the editors tying together and summarizing what they perceive to be the emerging needs for further research or clarification would have been useful.

In summary, this edited volume successfully highlights some of the current debates central to intercultural communication by providing the reader with a range of quality articles to stimulate and promote discussion.


Banks, J., McGee Banks, C. (2009) “Multicultural education: Issues and Perspectives”. 9th ed. New York: Wiley.

Berger, C. (1979). “Beyond initial interaction: Uncertainty, understanding, and the development of interpersonal relationships”. In Language and Social Psychology, edited by Giles, H. and St. Clair, R. Oxford: Blackwell.

Blum-Kulka, S., Blondheim, M., House, J., Kasper, G., and Wagner, J. (2008) “Intercultural Pragmatics, Language and Society”. In Unity and Diversity of Languages, edited by Sterkenberg, P. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Derks, D., Fischer, A., and Bos, AER. (2008). “The role of emoticons in computer-mediated communication: A review”. Computer in Human Behaviour Vol. 24, 766-785.

Gallois, C., Ogay, T., Giles, H. (2005). “Communication Accommodation Theory: A look back and a look ahead”. Theorizing About Intercultural Communication, edited by Gudykunst, W. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Kramsch, C. (1998). “Language and Culture”. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kramsch, C. (1993). “Context and Culture in Language Teaching”. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nishizaka, A. (1995). “The interactive constitution of interculturality: How to be a Japanese with words?” Human Studies 18:301-326.

Walther, B. (1994). “Anticipated on-going interaction versus channel effects on relational communication in computer-mediated interaction”. Human Communication Research 20 (4): 73-501.

Weitz, R. (1989). “Uncertainty and the Lives of people with AIDS. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 30:270-28.
Gail Al Hafidh received her doctoral degree (EdD) from the U.K's Open University and is currently working as English faculty in the Liberal Studies program at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. She holds a Masters in TEFL and Applied Linguistics and has previously worked in the British state school system (secondary level) as a modern languages teacher, in the business world as a management trainer and in further education. Her interests include intercultural communication, ELF, assessment of speaking skills, and ESL/EFL/ELF Teacher Training.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415808897
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