Asymmetrical Cultural Assumptions, the Public Self and the Role of the Native Speaker: Insights for the Expansion of Intercultural Education in Foreign Language Teaching *. (Linguistics)

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

"I don't know what you mean!" "I just can't understand you!" As Deborah Tannen (1992) has already illustrated, communication between partners from the same cultural, even from the same social background, living together for years, knowing each other and sharing the same language, often might fail due to different conversational goals and strategies. In intercultural communication, there are at least two speakers (A+B) from different cultural backgrounds communicating either in the native language of one of them or, maybe, in a third language, foreign to both of them. In the first case, even though the speaker (B) who uses the other (A) participant's mother tongue might be highly proficient in this second language, the linguistic conditions are asymmetrical. Going back to basics will be helpful to distinguish the multiple factors involved. Albeit using the same language, or in Sausurre's terms, the same signifiers, speaker (B) might relate them to signifieds from his/her own cultural background.

Therefore, in order to understand how interaction in an intercultural context works, it is crucial to understand how meaning is construed and conveyed among members of different ethnolinguistic groups, how language interrelates with social-cognition mediating processes, and finally how language becomes an outstanding dimension in this interaction.

Strategies used to deepen the efficiency of interpersonal interethnic communication are restricted by personal, situational and social factors, as well as the linguistic competence of the speakers and their ethnolinguistic accomodation. A rich vein of linguistic writings has devoted considerable attention to speech events as the starting point for the analysis of verbal communication.

Research in the field of discourse analysis has for many years now been concerned with the study of miscommunication. But, if communication between a married couple is often marked by misunderstandings, how can we expect two participants from different cultures to communicate successfully? This question, its underlying causes and subsequent outcomes, has occupied many researchers in the field of intercultural communication. Thus, for instance, analyses of cultural variation at different speech levels (see among others Tannen 1984; Clyne 1994; Scollon - Wong Scollon 1995; Scheu - Hernandez 1998) attempt to predict possible conflicts and their effects on intercultural communication.

Our main goal in this paper lies in examining whether in intercultural communication among speakers using the same language any misunderstandings occur and in determining which factors might cause these misunderstandings. For our present purpose, it seems worth giving priority to the review of those studies (intercultural relation studies, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and cognitive psychology) which from different perspectives promote a major understanding of intercultural communication by accounting for premises/constraints, such as:

- how language and culture mediate worldview and its influence on interaction;

- how worldview and sociocultural knowledge are structured into schematas, frames and prototypes that constrain the conveyance and intepretation of meaning;

-how speakers' goals and expectations are dependent upon their cultural assumptions, which in turn affect discourse norms and, if different, may hinder intercultural interaction;

- how speakers' self-evaluation might be threatened by the clash of diverging cultural assumptions, both the foreign "incoming" speaker as well as the native speaker facing an intercultural encounter.

These approaches help us elicit those factors that are essential to

be considered for the production and interpretation of utterances in intercultural communication. Relying on this theoretical background, our study will offer several instances of intercultural communication (1) analysed in terms of the weight participants' cultural background has on the successful communicative outcome. …