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Review of  Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais

Reviewer: Kerry J Mullan
Book Title: Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais
Book Author: Christine Béal
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.2914

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AUTHOR: Christine Béal
TITLE: Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais
SUBTITLE: De l'approche comparative à l'analyse des situations interculturelles
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights, 99
YEAR: 2010

Kerry Mullan, Language Discipline, RMIT University in Melbourne

Those readers like myself, who have been following Béal's work since the 1990s,
will be very pleased to see this book finally in print. Readers new to Béal's
work will be equally pleased with this discovery. ''Les interactions quotidiennes
en français et en anglais'' is essentially a synthesis of Béal's earlier research
carried out in a French company in Melbourne, expanded and updated with more
recent examples taken from several different corpora. As the title suggests, the
book uses a comparative approach to analyse authentic examples of daily
interactions in French and English, exploring the relationship between ways of
speaking, context (i.e. appropriate content) and cultural norms -- or what Béal
refers to as ''communicative ethos'' (p. 14). The book highlights the cultural
values behind certain aspects of the interactional styles of French and English
speakers, and examines the ensuing intercultural misunderstandings. Béal employs
several complementary frameworks in the analysis of the interactions, namely the
theories of pragmatics and speech acts, and the general principles of
conversation analysis.

The book consists of five main chapters. These include: the methodological
framework of the research; three analysis chapters dealing with turn-taking,
rituals and routines, comparison of directive speech acts; and a description of
French and English communicative values. The analysis chapters all contain
examples of interactions in French, followed by interactions in English, then an
analysis of intercultural misunderstandings (supported by post-interviews with
the participants of the interactions). While ''Les interactions quotidiennes en
français et en anglais'' is aimed principally at teachers and advanced students
of English and French, and linguists interested in interaction and intercultural
communication, it also offers French and English speakers a tool kit for dealing
with each other. While most of the English speakers referred to here are
speakers of Australian English, a few speakers of other varieties of English are
included; however, as Béal points out, while there will be some differences
between the speakers, enough similarities are found to be able to make certain
generalisations of interactional behaviour and cultural values of all English
speakers. (References to Australians and English speakers will be used
interchangeably in this review.)

At this point I must disclose my connection with the author and this
publication. When I first encountered Béal's research over a decade ago, her
work resonated loudly with me. As a British non-native speaker of French
interested in intercultural communication, I found Béal's research fascinating;
not only did it answer many questions for me, but it raised some new ones, and
set me on the path of my own research. Discovering Béal's work not only
influenced my own area of interest, but ultimately led to collaboration. Of
particular relevance to this publication are the data collections undertaken in
Melbourne in 2000 (corpus Mullan) and 2003 (corpus Béal/Mullan), from which
several examples of interaction are quoted and analysed.

Chapter One presents a comprehensive description of the theoretical and
methodological background to the research, beginning with the two main aims of
the book: to describe patterns of interactional behaviour and implicit
communicative norms of French and English speakers; and to link these norms with
underlying cultural values. Central to the book -- in addition to the importance
placed at all times on the detailed analysis of authentic interactional data --
is Béal's five-level model representing the fact that differences in two
languages-cultures can both reflect and be explained by cultural values and
priorities. Levels 1 and 2 describe observed linguistic behaviour (analysis
chapters Two to Four):

1) linguistic description of discourse in interaction
2) identification of preferential choices and conversational style of each

Levels 3 to 5 cover increasingly abstract levels of explanation (chapter Five):

3) explanation of interactional behaviour through the notion of ''communicative
4) wider frame of cultural values
5) possible sources for the ethos and cultural values in question

Chapter One goes on to discuss the merits of various approaches to the study of
the role of culture in discourse, and to describe the data from which the
examples of interaction are taken. These consist of recordings made in a
professional setting in Melbourne, conversations recorded with guests in the
home, examples taken from other corpora, reported anecdotes, and interviews
recorded with French and Australian participants.

The remainder of this first chapter deals with the methodology and concepts used
in the book, such as the notion of communicative ethos, its relation to other
cultural values, and three major axes of ethos: proximity versus distance;
hierarchical versus egalitarian; and consensual versus confrontational -- all
seen here as continuums, not oppositional, and all of which differ for French
and English speakers. Béal revisits Brown and Levinson's model of face and
politeness with particular reference to French and English linguistic behaviour,
arguing that a ''degree of mutual respect for faces'' should be included in the
model as a fourth variable in the assessment of a potential Face Threatening Act
(p. 65). The author then outlines and responds to the methodological limitations
and generalisability of the study, and the analysis of interactions from a
cross-cultural perspective in general, including the question of whether
cultural values can really be said to have an impact on language-specific norms
of interaction. Béal argues convincingly that they can, using the address system
as a concrete example of an overt relationship between the two; any system which
uses honorifics must have a cultural notion of hierarchy for example. For less
obvious examples, post-interviews with the participants offer an independent
interpretation of the interactions to that of the researcher, spontaneously
citing examples of 'unusual' language use by their interlocutor, and thereby
revealing the role of cultural values.

Chapter Two examines the main source of misunderstandings between French and
English speakers: the different turn-taking systems. Béal firstly presents an
in-depth discussion of the principles of turn-taking as described in
Conversation Analysis (CA), and suggests that, while largely universal, minor
differences in turn-taking norms, such as acceptable length of pauses between
turns or what constitutes an interruption, are sufficient to cause
misunderstandings and feelings of resentment in conversations between French and
English speakers. In their post-interviews, the English speakers reported
feeling rushed or interrupted by their French interlocutors, while the French
speakers complained of a lack of engagement ('commitment' or 'involvement') in
the conversation on the part of their Australian interlocutors. The author
discusses in some detail the notions of turn constructional units (based on
syntactic, pragmatic, prosodic, and non-verbal factors), turn-yielding clues,
overlaps, and rapport versus power interruptions in the context of
cross-cultural interactions.

The analysis section describes French interactional style, with authentic
examples of typical strategies such as overlaps, techniques for holding or
regaining the floor, 'echoing' (repeating segments of the interlocutor's speech
to show agreement), adding to or finishing the interlocutor's turn to display
comprehension and like-mindedness or to offer assistance, and instances of
acceptable interruptions. There then follows a description of comparative
English interactional style, with examples of longer pauses in and between
turns, and a lengthy examination of the semantic range and frequent use of
'well' as a more consensual turn starter than the preferred 'mais' (literally
'but') for French speakers -- even when prefacing a disagreement. Béal suggests
that English speakers seem to ''own their turn'' more than French speakers (p.
136). Interestingly, the one time French and English speakers seem to behave
similarly with respect to turn-taking is in teasing; in the example given, the
English speaker breaks the usual turn-taking rules and finishes their
interlocutor's utterance with a humorous remark.

The final section in this chapter illustrates how these conflicting
interactional norms can create misunderstandings and tension in an intercultural
situation: English speakers are left with the impression that their French
interlocutors are impatient and aggressive in conversation, while the French
speakers perceive their English interlocutors as 'boring' and 'too serious'. The
reader is left with the impression that conversation is not such a serious
matter for French speakers; there is a fun element to interaction which is not
shared by English speakers. It is almost as if this notion of fun has been
replaced by the fear of offending ones' interlocutor; this consideration for the
other is then perceived as a lack of warmth and enthusiasm by French speakers.

Chapter Three compares rituals and routines in the two languages-cultures.
Following a definition of these terms, a third concept is introduced: ''extended
conversational routine''. This distinguishes between short routinised exchanges
(which can be easily learnt by second language (L2) learners) and more elaborate
exchanges which require more personal improvised input from the speakers, such
as the apparently innocuous question ''Did you have a good weekend?''. The
remainder of the first part of this chapter explores the cultural values behind
ritualised exchanges, including proxemics, punctuality and face work.

The second part of the chapter deals with ritual aspects of opening sequences in
professional and social situations. Béal claims that French speakers perceive of
the workplace as a shared territory and the entire day as one long conversation,
which leads them to dispense with certain rituals such as openings or greetings
every time they see each other. Australians, however, consider desks and offices
to be private spaces and tend to keep their tasks and exchanges separate,
requiring a greater use of redressive negative politeness strategies;
frustrations then arise from what Australians see as territorial infringements
on the part of the French. While examining crossing the threshold in social
exchanges, Béal finds that French greetings contain a high degree of
ritualisation, a low regard for punctuality, effusive laughter at the joy of
seeing each other, and frequent emotive outbursts and compliments. In contrast,
Australian threshold greetings tend to be quicker, but include frequent
references to punctuality, more teasing and banter, but fewer compliments; when
compliments do occur, they are briefly acknowledged and the topic quickly changed.

The final section of this chapter revisits Béal's seminal work on the question
''Did you have a good weekend?'' (1992) and highlights several implicit
interactional rules underlying the typical French and Australian English
approaches to this question (rules which reflect the cultural values found
elsewhere in French and Australian English interaction). While Australians see
this question as a highly routinised almost throwaway line, French speakers see
it as a true question, and these differing perceptions cause tension and
misunderstandings. French speakers find the exchange too consensual, too factual
and rather short, leading them to conclude that Australians are insincere or
hypocritical (''why ask me this question if you are not interested in my
response?'', cf. also Peeters 1998). Conversely, Australians are surprised at the
length and details of the French speaker's reply, and what they consider
superfluous information. They also resent the French speakers' attempts to
elicit an opinion from them, when they do not see this as the goal of the
exchange. Clearly what underlies these frustrations are the differing cultural
values: the informality of Australian society versus the degree of intimacy in
French relationships; the Australian concern for social harmony versus the more
''engaged'' French discussions; the importance for Australians of being tactful
versus the French enjoyment of debate and confrontation. Put simply, one could
conclude that Australian English interaction is all about taking care with the
others' feelings, whereas in French interaction bypassing certain conventions
reaffirms the relationship between the speakers.

Chapter Four deals with directive speech acts (DSAs) using a contrastive
pragmatics and an intercultural approach. The first part addresses the
linguistic formulation of the speech act as the major source of cultural
variation and conflict between French and English speakers. This section
introduces the different kinds of DSAs examined (asking for information, making
requests, offers), and the notion of softeners in each language-culture, before
looking at specific examples.

The author examines French DSAs in professional and social settings.
Quantitative data illustrate how French speakers tend to soften their DSAs less
than English speakers, and how they use a wide variety of formulations depending
on the type of DSA, the weight of the imposition and -- more importantly -- the
relationship between the speakers. In the workplace, the hierarchical nature of
the relationship is highly significant and reflected in the ways of speaking
(with fewer politeness strategies necessary from superior to employee or between
intimates: e.g. imperatives, future tense, impersonal verbs like 'il faut',
etc.). French DSA strategies also include a range of distancing mechanisms which
neutralise the will of the speaker. The author then examines DSAs in the
Australian context and finds that English speakers engage in a greater amount of
face preserving work (usually through a combination of several softeners at
once), whatever the weight of the imposition or face threat, the type of DSA,
and the relationship between the speakers. Respect for the other's freedom of
action and a concern for non-imposition underlie the linguistic realisation of
most DSAs in English, regardless of hierarchy or closeness.

The remainder of the chapter deals with DSAs in cross-cultural interactions and
illustrate how the transfer of French strategies into English gives the
impression that the French are being rude or dictatorial; imperatives and the
future tense are rarely used in English DSAs; according to Wierzbicka (1991:
202), most requests are formulated as ''whimperatives'' in English. While French
speakers do use some softeners when speaking English, these are usually limited
to one simple softener at a time, such as 'please' or a nominal form of address;
hedges, modals and question tags are rarely employed. Conversely, French
speakers have trouble identifying the exact nature of the English DSA and the
urgency of the task; the imposition-avoidance strategies and ''excessive'' use of
hedges are associated with asking for favours in French, and so appear
hypocritical and manipulative to them. The final section of the chapter
discusses the assessment of roles and decision-making power in both cultures:
French executives want to be kept informed of and retain some control of
everything, whereas English speaking executives allow for more autonomy in the
workplace. The French preference for issuing orders does not sit well with the
Australian preference for consensus and autonomy. These macro level cultural
values in turn determine the respective micro level linguistic realisation of DSAs.

The final chapter ties together the preceding sections by examining the ethos of
French and English speaking cultures through two main dimensions: the expression
of the self (emotions, opinions, confrontation), and the treatment of others
(respect for autonomy, social distance, face-saving considerations). Béal's aims
are twofold here: to connect the interaction patters observed in different
contexts within a unified network, and to give L2 learners some tools for
successful cross-cultural communication. Theoretical and methodological
challenges are raised and answered in the affirmative along the way:

- Can we make generalisations from individual observations?
- Can interactional phenomena be extracted from their intra-interactional
context for comparison purposes?
- Can we establish real links between formal means of expression and underlying
cultural values?

Beginning with an analysis of the cultural value attached to self expression in
the two cultures, Béal argues that that French speakers tend to be more
impulsive than English speakers, reflecting the positive value afforded to
spontaneity and sincerity in French culture, as opposed to self-control; English
speakers are expected to conform to social expectations. French culture values
the frequent expression of opinion (cf. Mullan 2010), while English speakers
favour reticence and tact. French speakers see disagreements as less
face-threatening than English speakers, who prefer consensus and common ground
(cf. Mullan in press).

The next part of the chapter presents cultural values pertaining to the
treatment of others. English speakers generally place a greater importance on
autonomy and self-reliance than French speakers, who allow a preference for
sincerity or familiarity to outweigh the level of an imposition. Hierarchy and
social distance are also discussed, the author reiterating that French
informality requires fewer negative politeness strategies. It is noted that
French speakers distinguish more than English speakers between types of
relationships (causal vs. 'real' friends, acquaintances, business relationships
etc.), and this is reflected in interaction. English speakers tend to value
informality and humour in all situations, and this is evident in the uniformity
of their interactions, whomever they are addressing. This is clearly linked to
the underlying importance of egalitarianism and not taking oneself too seriously
in English speaking cultures. Béal concludes this chapter with a discussion of
the different notions of face in each culture, and the ensuing consequences for
intercultural communication. The author's concluding remarks restate the aim of
the book as being an attempt to do what is rarely done in intercultural
communication research: to combine a study of cultural attitudes, behaviours and
values with a fine-grained linguistic analysis of authentic data, in order to
demonstrate the inseparable nature of both. It is safe to say that this aim has
indeed been met.

This is an extremely detailed and thorough book; all claims are meticulously
explained and argued for, and supported by the qualitative analysis of relevant
authentic extracts from several corpora. The follow up interviews with
participants are particularly revealing and add an interesting dimension to the
analysis of the data. The level of detail and explanation of certain linguistic
concepts is at times more suited to the undergraduate linguistics student, who
will find this greatly enhances their understanding of intercultural pragmatics
and interactional analysis. However, non-specialists and non-native speakers of
French will also find this book very readable and accessible, and the summaries
in English at the beginning of each chapter are a welcome innovation by the
publisher Peter Lang.

While some non-specialist readers may find some of the theoretical explanations
rather detailed and technical, they will find the authentic examples of
interaction interesting and revealing. Not only that, but teachers of English or
French as a second or foreign language will find in these examples a wealth of
material to use in class with their learners (cf. Crozet and Maurer 2003 for an
example of how to use Béal 1992 with students of French). This methodical and
enlightening book admirably achieves its aim of providing French and English
speakers with a tool kit for dealing with each other, and is indeed a useful
reference point for anyone embarking on what Béal calls ''the adventure of
interculturality'' (p. 16).

Béal, Christine (1992) Did you have a good week-end? Or why there is no such
thing as a simple question in cross-cultural encounters. Australian Review of
Applied Linguistics 15, 1, 23-52.

Béal. Christine (2010) Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais:
de l'approche comparative à l'analyse des situations interculturelles. Bern:
Peter Lang.

Crozet, Chantal and Maurer, Louise (2003) Teaching French culture in language
use. In J. Lo Bianco and C. Crozet (eds.). Teaching invisible culture: classroom
practice and theory, 119 -- 145. Melbourne: Language Australia.

Mullan, Kerry (2010) Expressing opinions in French and Australian English
discourse: A semantic and interactional analysis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Mullan, Kerry (in press) ''I couldn't agree more, but …'': agreeing to disagree in
French and Australian English. In Auger, N., Béal, C. and Demougin, F. (eds.).
Interaction et interculturalité: varieté des corpus et des approches.
Montpellier: MSHM-PULM.

Peeters, Bert (1998) 'Salut! Ça va? Vous avez passé un bon weekend?' Journal of
French language studies 9, 2, 239-257.

Wierzbicka, Anna (1991) Cross-cultural pragmatics. The semantics of human
interaction. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kerry Mullan is lecturer and coordinator of French Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her main research interests are pragmatics, cross-cultural communication, differing interactional styles, and discourse analysis. Her PhD thesis (La Trobe University, Melbourn) examined the distinct discourse styles of French and Australian English speakers in the expression of opinions: specifically the interactional functions and semantics of the expressions 'I think', and the three French (approximate) equivalents, 'je pense', 'je crois' and 'je trouve'. Kerry is currently investigating humour in French and Australian English social visits with colleagues Christine Béal and Veronique Traverso.

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