S1708 Intercultural Communication (Cultures of the World core)

Elwood Kate

Course description

In this course we will examine the interface between culture and communication, looking at research dealing with speakers of a variety of languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Persian, Thai, and Vietnamese. Students will be encouraged to compare the findings with their personal experiences in the languages they speak.

Research regarding speech acts – utterances that perform a function – will comprise a major part of the course. The speech acts we will look at will include refusals, requests, thanking, congratulating, apologies, compliments, compliment responses, complaining, and criticizing. The articles we will read and discuss examine these speech acts from a cross-cultural perspective, observing similarities and differences in how they are performed among speakers of different cultures. In this type of analysis, the utterances are typically classified according to a strategic taxonomy. For example, in the case of apologies, speakers often employ an expression of apology, an acknowledgement of responsibility, an explanation, an offer of repair, a promise of non-reoccurrence, or a combination of these. Speakers of one culture may generally use these strategies to a greater or lesser frequency than those of another culture. We will examine the ways different researchers classify the strategies, and their findings regarding the relative frequencies of each strategy.

In addition, there are several other factors that may influence what a speaker says in performing a speech act, including the relative status of the two interlocutors, their degree of intimacy, gender, and the details of the speech-act initiating event, for example, the magnitude of the offence leading to the apology. Speakers may also differ in the degree of specificity in what they say, in their use of mitigators or intensifiers, in the length of what they say, or in the sequence of how they go about accomplishing the act. These, too, will be considered in the course, as well as the use of silence in communication.

The course will also focus on the issue of pragmatic transfer – on what happens when a speaker of one language relies on the sociocultural norms of that language when speaking another language, and potential results such as lack of appropriateness or even communicative breakdown. Of course, not all speakers of a given language share the same culture, and the course will further take a look at similarities and differences in the speech acts of speakers of different varieties of the same language: speakers of French French and Canadian French, and speakers of Irish English and English English.

Another strand of the course will focus on cultural scripts, precise descriptions of the cultural values and assumptions in natural semantic metalanguage that lead speakers of a given culture to formulate utterances in a certain way. We will particularly look at cultural scripts related to jocular irony, suggestions, offers, sadness, sincerity, and spontaneity.


Learning outcomes:

It is expected that by the end of the course students will have a greater awareness of a range of issues related to culture and communication, and the ability to undertake precise cross-cultural pragmatic investigations of language.