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Review of  Interactions et interculturalité : variété des corpus et des approches

Reviewer: Fabienne H. Baider
Book Title: Interactions et interculturalité : variété des corpus et des approches
Book Author: Nathalie Auger Christine Béal Françoise Demougin
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 23.5125

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EDITOR: N. Auger, C. Béal and F. Demougin
TITLE: Interactions et interculturalité: variété des corpus et des approaches
SERIES TITLE: Transversales 31
YEAR: 2012

Fabienne Baider, University of Cyprus, Cyprus


Published in ''Transversales'' (Peter Lang), a series that publishes works focusing on plurilingualism and pluriculturalism, ''Interactions et interculturalité: variété des corpus et des approaches'' is a collection of fifteen articles which identify and contrast interactional strategies (linguistic, social or cultural) that occur in everyday situations and communication. The articles present a variety of approaches and disciplinary orientations in the field of intercultural studies, which attempt to identify not only general trends in interactional behavior, but also communicative styles (ethos) that are culture-specific. Fields as varied as language teaching, conversational analysis and cross-cultural semantics are addressed in these articles, all but one written in French. Languages and cultures such as French, English (e.g., Australian English), Arabic (e.g., Tunisian and Syrian Arabic) and Italian are contrasted, French being the pivotal language of most studies. This is a plus in itself, given the few pragmatic studies with French as the focus -- as the editors remind us. The linguistic aspects examined cover terms of address, conversational sequence analysis, speech acts and contextual analysis of interactions. The articles analyse a wide range of communication contexts including naturally occurring conversations, film dialogues, classroom interactions, answers to questionnaires, and computer-mediated communication.

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

The guiding notion of the first section is the concept of ‘communicative ethos’ (cf. Kerbrat-Orecchioni 2002) that would be specific to the languages studied. More precisely, the five articles in this first section use conversation and pragmatic analysis of interactions in order to contrast linguistic strategies across languages and to decide whether they are universal or specific to different cultural values.

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

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

In the following chapter, Chantal Claudel explores French and Japanese computer-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 act in 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) as well as intra-cultural variations.

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

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

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

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

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

In the first chapter, Jean-Marc Dewaele explores new ways of understanding sociopragmatic competence (the appropriate usage of linguistic forms) in language classes. He focuses on the notion of ‘script’ (Schank & Abelson 1977), a script being defined as a schema of a cognitive structure that applies to daily situations and defines social roles, expectations and registers. From results obtained with an online questionnaire, Dewaele studies the meta-discourse used by multilingual adults and their preferences for a specific language to express specific social contexts. In conclusion, the author argues that L1 scripts dominate even in bilingual adults and influence their sociopragmatic competence in L2, a conclusion that is confirmed by the subsequent 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 during conversation management before and after their year abroad. The particle ‘mais’ is important since it plays a key semantic and interactional role in turn-taking and transactions, and it also functions somewhat differently in French than the English, but at the onset of turns. Her study shows that after a year abroad learners of French are aware of the pragmatic use of ‘mais’ and take advantage of it. However, they do so to a greater extent than L1 speakers of French and they seem not to have grasped the “greater range of pragmatic values of ‘mais’” (p. 247), or at least they do not use them.

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

The need to develop language learners’ awareness of differences in conversation management in L1 and L2 is also Nathalie Hascoët’s conclusion in chapter 4. The author builds on the Brown & Gullberg (2008) study on the influence of L1 on L2, and in particular investigates how a French native speaker of English expresses his or her point of view in L2, especially at the onset of the conversation. Three elements are taken into account: the use of discourse markers at the start of the conversation, the repetition of the other person’s discourse and the phrases used to state one’s opinion. For instance, French colloquial exchanges are marked differently than those in English (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 means to foster awareness and two research areas that her study might pursue.

Computer-mediated communication is Lorenzo Devilla’s focus in the fifth chapter, and especially the opening and closing rituals among Italian and French students communicating on the Galanet platform, a European project created to promote and improve communication between speakers of Romance languages. Working only on usages found when communicating in L2, the author describes how French students use more opening and closing rituals than Italians do, and use them more often. Moreover, these rituals in French have a neutral tone (“routine standardisée”, p. 305), which combined with the frequency of usage indicate a distant ethos (“ethos de distance”, p. 314). Italians, in contrast, tend to use longer and more affectionate rituals and also frequently use other languages in their opening and closing expressions (“marqueur transcodique de proximité”, p. 311), which result in more convivial exchanges. They tend then to display an ethos of closeness (“ethos émotionnel”, p. 313).

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

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

In the last chapter of the book, Carlotta Cini compares how forms of address in Italian and French, as well as ‘small words’ such as ‘un attimo’ (‘one moment’), interjections and politeness routines are rendered in the translation into French (dubbed version as well as subtitles) of Italian films. Using the concepts of ethnolect, the study confirms the difference in communicative ethos in the French and the Italian cultures, i.e., the French data showing a more egalitarian and less intimate style (fewer forms of address being used, for instance) than the Italian data. Furthermore she concludes that inconsistencies in the translation are not only due to practical constraints; it is important to take into account the differences in the 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 the book a valuable reference tool given the rarity of work in pragmatics that concentrate on French. Moreover, the wealth and the diversity of data explored (especially welcome is the analysis of new media data, for instance), as well as the range of communicative events taken into account (naturally occurring conversation, language learning situations, translations), open new research perspectives in the field of cross-cultural communication. There are some editing problems (bibliographical references missing, spelling mistakes, differing reference styles, etc.), which testify to the pressure under which editing work is done today. In the last chapter, for instance, some key concepts, such as low-kinesic or high-kinesic style, are neither explained nor referenced. Moreover, the quality of research and writing is uneven.

Despite these shortcomings, however, most articles offer precise and significant insights into the behaviors and styles examined, and into how language functions in a certain society and at a certain point in time -- a case in point are the studies in second language acquisition as well as Traverso and Orecchioni’s studies, state of the art works of the French school (so to speak) in conversational analysis. Also appreciated is the fact that without undermining their own work, most authors acknowledge the limitations of their conclusions and call for cautiousness in drawing generalisations (“vigilance dans la portée des résultats”, p.121), given the generally small size of the corpora under investigation and the non-asserted representativity of the data studied. Indeed, in the presentation of the first section is found an appeal to work within an interface of a socio-cultural theoretical framework and conversational analysis. Surprisingly, a lengthy explanation of the MSN framework (pp. 14-15) is provided in the same presentation, although only one article focuses on Wierzbicka’s theory and only sporadic references to this theoretical framework are found in the rest of the book. The point is well taken, though, since this type of interface could be useful to frame micro-analysis in order to extend, strengthen and broaden the conclusions, as Wodak’s works anchored in her discourse-historical approach demonstrate convincingly (e.g., Kwon, Clarke, and Wodak 2009).


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

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

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Catherine. 2002. Système linguistique et ethos communicatif, 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. Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage, eds., Structures of Social Action, pp. 57-101. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Thomas, Jenny. 1984. Cross-cultural discourse as unequal encounter: toward a pragmatic 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-cultural semantics, and discourse analysis.

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