Toward dynamic intercultural pragmatics
by Chiaki IWAI (Hiroshima City University),
Carol RINNERT (Hiroshima City University),
Tomoyuki YOKOYAMA (Hiroshima City University),
Chiara ZAMBORLIN (Nagoya University of Arts),
Yoko NOGAMI (Graduate student, Hiroshima City University)
for English as an International Language1
This paper summarizes five related studies presented at the invited pragmatics colloquium during the JALT 2006 Pan-SIG Conference.
These studies were conducted by researchers in Japan who worked together in a collaborative research project named Prag-PEACE.
The main objective of this project was to seek necessary and ideal conditions to promote intercultural pragmatics for pedagogical purposes.
Three practical proposals were discussed at the colloquium by integrating these five studies. They in turn provided future pragmatic research objectives and directions and are stated first in this paper. Summaries of the five studies follow, and then rationales for the proposals are mentioned at the end.
The main focus of the colloquium was primarily methodological and pedagogical, rather than theoretical; furthermore, the findings presented by the members of this project are considered exploratory instead of confirmatory or conclusive.
Three proposals highlighted throughout this paper are:
The first study in this paper directly addresses the first proposal and includes a newly developed data collection tool. The second study deals with a theoretical issue related to the second proposal. The final three studies relate to the third proposal.
The data collection tool reported in Study 1 was utilized in the final three empirical studies3.
- Researchers of intercultural pragmatics should develop and share useful and practical data collection methods that allow them to facilitate studies across different contexts of language learning and use.
- A refined theoretical framework that can account for pragmatic problems of both non-native speakers (NNSs) and native speakers (NSs) equally should be established.
- It is necessary to incorporate research findings from different types of English user interactions (e.g., NS-NNS interactions and NNS-NNS interactions) and investigate dynamically how one type of interaction can be extended to other types.
Study 1: A questionnaire management system called ChauSer and some free tools for data analysis and collaboration
Research in pragmatic aspects of language requires linguistic data and tools for analyzing them, but many of the programs and services for data collection and data analysis seem to have been insufficient for linguistic purposes or too expensive to employ as an individual user. To solve these problems, this study by Tomoyuki Yokoyama proposed a coordinated way of using a newly developed questionnaire management system called ChauSer and two useful free systems available on the Internet - R and XOOPS Cube (see References for more about these systems). R is a tool for statistical analysis which can work either as an application on a local computer or as an Internet Web service. XOOPS Cube is one of the most well-known and widely used content management systems, and it allows the users to create a dynamic community website for collaboration.
Figure 1. ChauSer's login page4
Of these three, ChauSer is an original product of the Prag-PEACE project, and it enables users to make up Web-based questionnaires using a simple wizard, which is an interactive computer program that uses step-by-step dialogs. Even audio and video files can easily be uploaded and utilized as part of a questionnaire. Skilled users can also employ an HTML tag subsystem with an editor-like interface to make more elaborate pages.
Study 2: A theoretical framework for cross-cultural pragmatic dissonance: Going beyond bi-dimensional transfers
The second study by Chiara Zamborlin discussed the notion of pragmatic 'dissonance' (Zamborlin, 2004), which relates to grammatically correct but pragmatically inappropriate verbal behavior. Dissonances are therefore marked forms of behavior, and being such, seldom go unnoticed. They are very likely to occur in intercultural encounters and the exploration of their possible causes and effects can help us to understand the reasons why foreigners sometimes sound strange to NSs of a target language/culture in which some communicative effort takes place. This exploration can enable researchers to comprehend the causes of numerous stereotypes that the natives of a language/culture may attach to people coming from different languages/cultures who, despite the grammaticality of their utterances, may act according to different speech styles. The notion of dissonance can also be regarded as an ample container embracing a large variety of instances of miscommunication stemming from pragma-linguistic and socio-pragmatic causes, as well as from divergences in the mental frames of the participants.
". . . dissonance can . . . be regarded as an ample container embracing a large variety of instances of miscommunication."
The data examined in this study consisted of utterances extracted from authentic discourse and produced in actual situations by NNSs interacting in English or in Japanese. The study aimed to show that dissonances often result from different overlapping categories of transfers (e.g., pragma-linguistic, socio-pragmatic, encyclopedic) and involve more than one pragmatic domain at the same time (e.g., illocution, style, discourse). This analysis, moreover, can be considered as a reexamination and an expansion of Thomas' (1983) notion of 'cross-cultural pragmatic failure'.
This study also argued that the distinction Thomas (1983) introduced between pragma-linguistic and socio-pragmatic failures may be too narrow. In fact, failures stemming from pragma-linguistic causes (such as infelicitous selection of lexical forms, erroneous socio-linguistic encodings, and wrong selection of terms of address) can easily convey the impression of being failures of a socio-pragmatic nature originating from cross-culturally different assessments of interpersonal parameters. The analysis of the examples that were examined in this study show that this is not always the case and that a broader, more dynamic criteria for classifying failures often needs to be adopted.
The study, finally, aimed at illustrating how the effects dissonances can bring about are context-bound and quite at the mercy of hearers' tolerance: depending on the situation, the feelings that a dissonance can produce on the audience are unpredictable and assessable only along a very flexible scale of markedness. In fact, they can range quite erratically from a sense of irritation and disapproval to a sense of hilarity, that is to say, from negatively to positively marked effects, emotionally speaking.
Study 3: Learning to complain - Expanding awareness of English pragmatic strategies among Japanese EFL students
This study by Rinnert, Nogami, and Iwai aimed to (1) determine what English complaint strategies are perceived as most appropriate and effective by Japanese English as a foreign language (JEFL) learners at an intermediate proficiency level, (2) compare their perceptions with previously collected data from native and fluent non-native English speakers (NFES), and (3) determine which strategies might prove to be most problematic for these learners. A full account of this study is given in the next paper this volume.
Study 4: Complaining softly in Japanese and English
This study by Yoko Nogami offers a cross-cultural and cross-linguistic analysis of softeners which appear in Japanese and English complaints. Complaining to an interlocutor can be face-threatening. In such perilous interactions, a speaker may want to mitigate the force of the speech act by using softeners. Softening speakers' utterances can be regarded as being a universal linguistic feature because of the nature of 'negative politeness' (Brown and Levinson, 1987). This study explored English softeners used by English NSs and Japanese EFL students, and Japanese softeners used by Japanese NSs collected from complaint discourse completion tests (DCT). The data were collected the same two situations the previous study above which students may possibly encounter through their college years: (1) complaining to a professor who made an apparent error in grading (Professor situation); (2) complaining to a roommate who repeatedly made noise late at night (Roommate situation).
The L1 and L2 English complaints were part of the 1996 data with 100 Japanese responding in English (JE), and 100 Americans responding in English (US) (Iwai & Rinnert, 2001). The L1 Japanese complaint DCT data (JJ) were collected from 196 Japanese college students by using ChauSer in 2005. In this study softeners, were regarded as lexical and syntactic devices to soften messages or propositions asserted in discourses. They included such markers as could, probably, I think, and a little in English;
and -yone, chotto, and -to omou, in Japanese.
Identified softeners were analyzed quantitatively in each situation. In the Professor situation, the US group showed a high frequency of multiple softener use (56.4% of respondents used more than one softener.). In the JE and JJ data, a considerable number of respondents (64.8% for JE, and 54.2 % for JJ) did not use any softeners. In the Roommate situation, similarities were observed between the JJ and US groups in that both groups showed a high frequency of multiple softener use (57.8% and 57.1%, for JJ and US groups, representatively). In contrast, 71.4% of the JE group did not use any softeners at all.
". . . considering Japanese softeners and honorifics separately could reveal better ways to understand JE group's use of softeners in English."
Overall, the US and JE groups demonstrated similar tendencies in the use of softeners in both situations, although the JJ group showed substantial differences in their use, as the percentages above indicate. This could be explained as a characteristic of the Japanese mitigation system. The Japanese honorific language is recognized as a means of mitigating messages. This study systematically outlined differences in the way mitigation is conducted in English and Japanese. Most notably, Japanese mitigation is characterized by the fact that there are two distinctive formulas depending on social distance/age differences among interlocutors. When speaking to higher status or/and older interlocutors, Japanese speakers' usage of honorific expressions is crucial, based on the cultural norms of the society. Therefore, it would not be necessary to use several softeners because of the application of honorific expressions to discourses. On the other hand, when talking with people in close relationships, for example, friends in the same generation and family members, there will be no/less need to mitigate utterances with honorific expressions. Instead, people use a large number of softeners, with postpositional particles heading the list for Japanese softeners.
This study concluded that the less frequent softener use by the JE group could be due to respondents' grammatical or pragma-linguistic problems in both situations. In the Professor situation, it can be said that Japanese honorifics could not be reflected in English speaking as softening. Moreover, in the situation with the Roommate, softeners, especially Japanese postpositional particles, could not be easily transferred into English.
The results suggested that considering Japanese softeners and honorifics separately could reveal better ways to understand JE group's use of softeners in English. In-depth investigations focusing on which Japanese and English softeners are interrelated in L1 and L2 and the frequency counts and kinds of both English and Japanese softeners (cross-culturally) are necessary to obtain a more precise understanding of L1 and L2 softener use.
Study 5: NNSs in different learning contexts and their attention to phonological, grammatical, and pragmatic features
This study by Chiaki Iwai began with the assumption that in rapidly globalizing contexts, it is not uncommon for speakers to use English without knowing the pragmatic norms of other interlocutors. Highly sophisticated strategic competence beyond mere compensatory skills tends to become a must in these contexts (see Kasper & Kellerman 1997
for a comprehensive overview of strategic competence and communication strategies). Little is known, however, in intercultural pragmatics about the growth of English learners' strategic competence, especially that of EFL learners with a limited amount of 'authentic' exposure. As an initial exploratory attempt at revealing the strategic competence of such speakers, this study investigated empirically whether learners in different learning contexts differ in their ways of attending to phonological, grammatical, and pragmatic features of utterances by NNSs and NSs. Two of the main observation targets were (1) English learning contexts (a country factor) and (2) learners' English proficiency levels (a proficiency factor).
An audio-equipped questionnaire survey was conducted in four EFL contexts: Japan (n = 213), China (n = 281), Korea (n = 216), and Italy (n = 194).2 The questionnaire as well as fundamental discussions of this study were based on 1998 research by Bardovi-Harlig and Dörnyei. In their prototype study, they compared two different types of English learners and teachers (EFL vs. ESL) using judgment tasks with several pragmatic/grammatical problems embedded, and found that EFL learners and teachers were more grammar-oriented, while their ESL counterparts were more pragmatic-oriented. Referring to this task research, the present study used both NS and NNS audio samples, with similar types of pragmatic/grammatical problems in which several NNS phonological features were inserted. The NNS samples were performed by four NNS speakers, each one of them representing one of the four respondent nationality groups, and two NSs (American and Canadian).
". . . EFL learners' pragmatic awareness grows somewhat apart from their growth in language proficiency."
Among various findings, four points appeared to be of special importance in relation to teaching English for cross-cultural communication. First, there seemed to have been a hierarchical order in EFL learners' attention while listening to the audio models, in the order of phonology to pragmatics and finally to grammar. Second, although proficiency affected EFL learners' judgment accuracy, the perceived origin of the speakers appeared to have been more influential than their proficiency in forming judgments. Third, not only was EFL learners' attention to grammar low, but also their attention to it was highly inaccurate or non-existant. Fourth, EFL learners' judgment toward the two NS samples were more positive than that toward those by NNS performers, although one of the NS samples had an equal number of similar grammatical and pragmatic problems.
Several implications could be drawn from these results. Of them, the most important would be that EFL learners' pragmatic awareness grows somewhat apart from their growth in language proficiency. Another point is that the perceived country of origin, may have a lot to do with how the language is taught as well as the native pragmatic norms, and affect pragmatic sensitivity to a large extent. This study also suggested indirect evidence that pragmatic competence would be teachable in EFL contexts. Such competence might play a more important role for actual communication than mere grammatical knowledge.
Rationales for the proposals
Let us now consider the reasoning underlying the three over-arching proposals is explained in terms of the studies reported herein.
It should be emphasized that although the first proposal has actually been implemented on a practical level,
the other two are far from implementation and require much further work to be realized in complete, tangible forms.
The first proposal concerns one of the primary goals of the Prag-PEACE project, namely, the development of powerful data-collection and data-sharing tools. As explained in the first study by Yokoyama, it is not easy to collect research data in different intercultural contexts. One practical and highly promising solution would make the best use of modern technology, particularly the Internet. ChauSer is such an example, and we need similar innovative methodological tools available to the pragmatic research community.
The second proposal addresses the need for theoretical refinements in the field of intercultural pragmatics. The absolute nature of a term such as "failure" (as in "pragmatic failure," Thomas, 1983) carries too narrow a meaning to cover the full range of pragmatic mismatches across and within cultures. As explained in the second study by Zamborlin the term "dissonance" seems to be more appropriate to describe non-absolute criteria of native speakers' pragmatic norms. As the presenter suggested, many other such theoretical refinements are required in order to create a comprehensive pragmatic framework.
The third proposal concerns the dynamic extension of pragmatic research findings to different types of interactions. The three empirical studies represented the beginnings of this kind of extension. In one direction, two of the studies compared pragmatic production and perceptions across different cultural groups, building on earlier studies. They also investigated Japanese EFL learners intensively by limiting their scope to one speech act, that of complaints. In another direction, the third study made a cross-cultural comparison in four different EFL contexts. Both the first and third empirical studies examined receptive aspects of language learners' pragmatic competence. The presenters suggested that these studies should be extended to productive aspects, investigating whether strategies for pragmatic solutions to potential dissonances can be taught, and if so, how.
The colloquium presenters explained that in many ways, attempts through the Prag-PEACE project were merely a beginning. The members of the project expressed their profound hope that the spirit of sharing and reaching out to the intercultural pragmatic research community would grow. Moreover, they eagerly anticipated continuing their attempts to improve their understanding of the pragmatic needs of speakers of English as an international language.
1 The authors of this study are aware that ideological controversies have been raised with respect to "English as an international language" (e.g., Phillipson, 1992). They neither desire nor intend to address such ideological debates in their project, even though they do not accept the perspective of regarding English as an international language unconditionally.
2 About one-half of three EFL groups other than the Italian
group were English majors, while the other half were non-English majors. The Italian group
consisted only of language major students.
3 Questionnaires for the final three empirical studies mentioned in this paper are available online.
The questionnaire for Study 3 may be obtained at http://prag.lang.hiroshima-cu.ac.jp/chauser7/page.do?id=281
The questionnaire for Study 4 can be found at http://prag.lang.hiroshima-cu.ac.jp/chauser7/page.do?id=139
The English version of questionnaire for Study 5 is at http://prag.lang.hiroshima-cu.ac.jp/chauser7/page.do?id=232
4 A user name and a password are required to log into this site. Those interested in using the site are invited to contact the first author
at iwai *at* intl *dot* hiroshima-cu *dot* ac *dot* jp (with the "at" and "dot" symbols added and no empty spaces).
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Pragmatic versus grammatical awareness in instructed L2 learning. TESOL Quarterly, 32 (2), 233-262.
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Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
R (Version 2.3.1) [Computer software]. (2006). Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
Accessed May 13, 2006 from http://www.r-project.org/, http://www.math.montana.edu/Rweb/ (English),
and http://r.nakama.ne.jp/Rweb-jp/ (Japanese).
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XOOPS Cube (Version 2.0.16a JP) [Computer software]. (2006). XOOPS Cube Project.
Accessed on May 13, 2006 from http://www.xoops.org/ (English) and http://jp.xoops.org/ (Japanese).
Zamborlin, C. (2004). Exploring potential sources of dissonances in inter-cultural encounters:
Requests across Japanese, English and Italian - from pragma-linguistic to educational via cross-cultural pragmatics.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Hiroshima City University, Hiroshima.