Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction

Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction

Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction

Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction

Synopsis

This book challenges the approaches to human interaction based on supposedly universal 'maxims of conversation' and 'principles of politeness,' which fly in the face of reality as experienced by millions of people crossing language boundaries (refugees, immigrants, etc.) and which cannot help in the practical tasks of cross-cultural communication and education. In contrast to such approaches, this book is both theoretical and practical: it shows that in different societies, norms of human interaction are different and reflect different cultural attitudes and values; and it offers a framework within which different cultural norms and different ways of speaking can be effectively explored, explained, and taught. The book discusses data from a wide range of languages and it shows that the meanings expressed in human interaction and the different 'cultural scripts' prevailing in different speech communities can be clearly and intelligibly described and compared by using a 'natural semantic metalanguage,' based on empirically established universal human concepts. As the book shows, this metalanguage can be used as a basis for teaching successful cross-cultural communication, including the teaching of languages in a cultural context.

Excerpt

The fate of the earth depends on cross-cultural communication.

Deborah Tannen (1986:30)

1. Language as a tool of human interaction

This book is devoted to the study of language as a tool of human interaction. It investigates various kinds of meanings which can be conveyed in language (not in one language, but in different languages of the world) — meanings which involve the interaction between the speaker and the hearer.

It could be argued, of course, that all meanings involve interaction between the speaker and the hearer: whether we talk about colours, animals, children, love, the fate of the universe, or even pure mathematics, we use language as a tool of social interaction.

In some sense this is true. Nonetheless, there are words which involve directly the concepts of 'I' and 'you', and interaction between 'I' and 'you', and there are others which do not. Similarly, there are grammatical categories, and grammatical constructions, which involve these concepts directly, and there are others which do not. For example, the English words blue and yellow make no reference to the speaker, the addressee, or the relationship between them; on the other hand, words such as darling, bastard, already, yuk, thanks, or goodbye do. Similarly, grammatical categories such as singular and plural number (dog vs. dogs) or masculine and feminine gender (for example, la fille 'girl' vs. le garçon 'boy' in French) do not involve the speaker, the addressee, or the relationship between them; whereas categories such as diminutives (doggie vs. dog), augmentatives (for example, problemón, problemazo 'big problem' vs. problema 'problem' in Spanish) or honorifics (for example, otaku 'esteemed house' vs. ie 'house' in Japanese) do.

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