contrastive pragmatics n.
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Contrastive Pragmatics. Lecture 10. Introduction.

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  • If language is accepted as part of culture, then it seems almost trivial to maintain that the use of language will reflect culture. However, if one looks at a person speaking a language that was not learned as a native language, this seeming triviality is lost, for then, language use will reflect culture. A study of such non-native language use can thus give insight into the original cultural background, and might be termed interactive ethnolinguistics, dealing with specific characteristics of language groups as well as a comparison of two cultures. It is an analysis of two cultures in action.
  • A great many factors play a role in determining how an utterance will be interpreted, among them the social status of the participants and their expectations of what others will do in certain situations. In addition, utterances may have more than one kind of meaning. For example, the English request to open the window with an introductory please may, depending on other factors, be a command or even an insult.
  • In cases where one of the participants has learned and is using the language of the other, expectations and understanding about these factors may not be shared, and the learner may even lack the register called for the interaction.
  • Thus, such study of interactive ethnolinguistics may help predict the kinds of problems that may develop between learners and the native speakers of the language used for communication.
  • Another obstacle to such communication may occur when native speakers of the language used are monolingual, and cannot imagine that the intentions of their partners may be different than their own if they were to use the form and expressions the others use. The result may be a conflict.
  • Different use of language may lead to a simple lack of understanding on the part of the native speaker or the non-native speaker. In the case where an utterance is understood, the difference may or may not be seen as being important. When the divergent usage is understood as such, but not felt to be important, the listener may simply make the changes necessary for the utterance to conform to his expectations.
  • It is often interesting to note which changes are made, for these are often wrong. Native speakers, in communication with non-native speakers who have not mastered the pronouns for gender, tend to make the wrong judgments. Often, the difference is understood and felt to be important, but not judged to be a difference in language usage. This may lead to conflict.
maxims and politeness
Maxims and politeness
  • Brown and Levinson (1978:100) state that most conversations do not proceed in the brusque fashion that would be the expected result of the adherence to these maxims, and that the reason they do not is because people are being polite. Moreover, this politeness is communicated by the departure itself.
maxims and politeness1
Maxims and politeness
  • “But even in such departures from the Maxims, they remain in operation at a deeper level. It is only because they are still assumed to be in operation that addressees are forced to do the inferential work that establishes the underlying intended message...” The importance of these assumptions may well be stressed, because, particularly in cross-cultural communication, they seem to be the only clues one has.
maxims and politeness2
Maxims and politeness
  • Exchanges between native speakers are in many circumstances almost semi-automatic, and yet unintelligible to the listening non-native speaker. As a participant, the non-native speaker is forced to make these assumptions almost consciously. There is another assumption the participant in cross-cultural communication makes, and it is vital. It deals with the politeness of the exchange. The Maxims presented thus far were all directed towards the speaker (do this, avoid that) though, by implication, they influence the hearer.
maxims and politeness3
Maxims and politeness
  • Grice prefers to omit such maxims as “be polite” (1975:47), and indeed, such a formulation seems problematic. On the other hand, the hearer makes the assumption that the conversation can be assigned a place on the scale of politeness, and this is done in an attempt to comprehend what is being said and in deciding whether to ignore it or not, whether to question it or , in fact, to what extent it requires a response.
maxims and politeness4
Maxims and politeness
  • Politeness is perhaps particularly important in cross-cultural communication, for without a willingness to presume good intentions on the part of the partner, the communication will probably break down. Thus a listener-directed maxim seems indicated. “Presume the utterance was intended to be polite if there is not evidence to the contrary.”
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Maxims and politeness
  • Some codes of politeness require that an offer of food or drink first be turned down, to be accepted only after repeated offers. If the first rejection is accepted as such, and no repeated offer is made, both partners may be confused and hurt by the exchange.
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Maxims and politeness
  • The maxims postulated by Grice, with the addition of the politeness maxim, seem to provide a possible framework for interactive ethnolinguistic work, the analysis of what goes wrong in cross-cultural communication. Problems stem, of course, from the application of the Gricean terms to the context in any cultural setting–– what is “relevant” in one culture may not be so in another.
cross cultural examples
Cross-cultural examples
  • The following examples stem from exchanges between native speakers of Western Apache and speakers of American English, where English was used as the language of communication.
  • A difference in the perception of the maxim of quantity is illustrated in the following example:
  • (1) She had a baby for him
cross cultural examples1
Cross-cultural examples
  • An English speaker would consider She had a baby sufficient, and if he were to be brought into the statement at all, it would read ‘She had his baby.’ This usage of for him stems from the fact that Western Apache society is arranged in clans, clan membership being matrilineal. The clan of which one is a member is the clan which one was “born to,” whereas the clan of the father is the “born for” clan, and the “born for” relationship is also important.
cross cultural examples2
Cross-cultural examples
  • Thus, (1) illustrates a culturally determined difference in the use of language, and is not a departure from the maxim in the Apache view.
  • The maxim of quality, be truthful and sincere, is a particularly difficult proposition, for the definitions differ greatly.
  • (2) We were just sitting around telling lies.
cross cultural examples3
Cross-cultural examples
  • This statement was received with shock by an Apache. ‘Telling lies’ is considered a very bad thing to do, and certainly not a thing to which a person would freely admit. Such an admittance shows not only that one engages in censured activity, but that one lacks the most basic knowledge of the difference between right and wrong.
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Cross-cultural examples
  • All of this was, of course, not intended. What the speaker did not realize was that Apaches take statements literally –– they do no use understatement, overstatement or irony (with few exceptions), and do not understand it in English as English speakers intend it to be understood. For them, the second maxim must be taken literally. On the other hand, their politeness rules require that they “lie” when an English speaker would probably use a different strategy.
cross cultural examples5
Cross-cultural examples
  • (3) A: How old are you?
  • B: I don’t know.
  • C: Oh, don’t be like that
  • In this exchange, an 11-year-old Western Apache girl was, with (3b), reprimanding a (non-Apache) adult for asking a direct personal question, and was in turn reprimanded by her brother with (3c).
cross cultural examples6
Cross-cultural examples
  • The response given in (3b) is a standard and culturally acceptable way to respond to perceived rudeness, but is customarily interpreted by English speakers as a truthful and sincere answer. This has led people with limited contact with such peoples to believe that the person who answers in this fashion may not be very bright, as evidenced by the fact that such simple and basic knowledge is lacking.
cross cultural examples7
Cross-cultural examples
  • Perhaps this illustrates an overlapping of this maxim and the “politeness” maxim, because the speaker of (3a) is not aware of having been impolite, and thus cannot see (3b) as the polite form of That is none of your business. However, because of this unawareness, the answer will be interpreted in accordance with the second maxim.
cross cultural examples8
Cross-cultural examples
  • The third maxim calls for relevance.
  • (4) When are you leaving?
  • This question is posed to newcomers in a culture with great regularity. The newcomer often does not, in fact, know what is being asked, namely, whether a stay is planned that will be long enough for it to be useful to members of the culture to form relationships with the visitor.
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Cross-cultural examples
  • Many cultures have been subjected to a steady coming and going of people from other places and cultures, and have learned that it is, at best, risky, to start building a relationship with an outsider who will leave again directly, so they are only being cautious.
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Cross-cultural examples
  • The maxim of manner requires that one be perspicuous.
  • (5) You need about 124 sticks.
  • (6) I guess that’s right.
  • These two examples illustrate attempts by native Apache speakers to introduce modal particles into English. The Apache language has a number of such particles which add nuances of politeness to a statement.
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Cross-cultural examples
  • These particles as such are lacking in English, but the Apache speaker feels that, without about, (5) would be impolite because it would sound dictatorial. In (6), the speaker is in no doubt, but the direct statement withoutI guess would not be tactful. The speaker is not guessing, and a response such as Well, could you please find out for sure can only lead to embarrassment.
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Cross-cultural examples
  • The last maxim, “Presume the utterance was intended to be polite if there is no evidence to the contrary,” must be included, for without it, countless examples would seem without motivation. This is particularly the case in such exchanges where Apaches consider silence to be a polite method of communication, but English speakers use language. For example, many non-Apaches feel slighted because Apaches do not greet them with hi at the post office or in the store, but Apaches do not greet each other that way either.
pragmatic errors
Pragmatic errors
  • Traditional contrastive linguistic studies have been limited exclusively to structural descriptions and comparisons of the phonology, lexis and morpho-syntax of the languages in question. Sociolinguistic, communicative, interactive and discursive aspects of language use and behavior have been correspondingly neglected. In the early 1970s a new, ‘communicative approach’ to language teaching, and emphasizing the socio-linguistic dimension of language use served to highlight the inadequacies of purely structural models, whether contrastive or not.
pragmatic errors1
Pragmatic errors
  • Riley (1989:232) notes that the models of linguistic description, on which the ‘communicative approach’ was based drew their inspiration more from Speech Act theory than from Discourse Analysis. Repertories of illocutionary functions and their realizations lack the dynamic and syntagmatic characteristics of interactive language use. Moreover, such repertories can easily give the impression that the categories of speech acts (the functions) and of communicative events (the situations) and roles ( the participants) on which they are based are linguistic universals.
pragmatic errors2
Pragmatic errors
  • Consequently, any attempts at contrastive analysis at the communicative level would be both fruitless and pointless. Since both the languages in question would necessarily have ways of expressing say, a greeting, it is only at the level of morpho-syntactic realization that any contrasts are possible. Similarly, the work of philosophers like Searle (1975) and Grice (1975) was taken as indicating that this was equally true of discourse processes such as inferencing and implicature.
pragmatic errors3
Pragmatic errors
  • There are differences in the nature and sequencing of ‘speech acts’ between one language and another, in the ways in which topics, turns and roles are selected, expressed and assessed and in the beliefs and values which form the common ground for the negotiation of meaning. In the late 1970’s a steady trickle of publications to this topic began to appear and it has increased steadily since.
pragmatic errors4
Pragmatic errors
  • Pragmatic error is the label we attach to a wide range of dropped bricks and misunderstandings. Consequently, it is vain to attempt to produce a precise definition which will convert them all: we will have to be satisfied with a working description in the hope that it will be susceptible to further refinement:
pragmatic errors5
Pragmatic errors
  • “pragmatic errors are the result of an interactant’s imposing the social rules of one culture on his communicative behavior in a situation where the social rules of one culture would be more appropriate.” (Riley, 1989:234)
pragmatic errors6
Pragmatic errors
  • Even a definition as vague as this begs a number of questions. The most important of these concerns the judgmental nature of this approach. Who is to say what is and is nor ‘appropriate?’ is it possible to make valuefree statements about the differences between two cultures? Linguists are often surprised by such questions. Surely, they say, the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive statements is now clearly recognized.
pragmatic errors7
Pragmatic errors
  • But for the language teacher, whose role constantly obliges him/her model, which will in turn directly determine the aims and content of his/her syllabus?
  • The definition given above is not limited in its application to linguistic behavior, but is valid for communicative behavior in the widest possible sense. This was deliberate, as it enables us to include not only those errors which both Thomas (1983) and Leech (1983:18) call ‘pragmalinguistic’ and ‘sociolinguistic,’ but also a third sub-category of ‘non-verbal’ social errors, which Riley (1989:235) labels ‘inchoative’ and whose omission renders any account of pragmatic failure incomplete.
pragmatic errors8
Pragmatic errors
  • Thomas (1983:99) defines and distinguishes pragmalinguistic and socio-pragmatic errors as follows:
  • “pragmalinguistic failure.... occurs when the pragmatic force mapped by S onto a given utterance is systematically different from the force most frequently assigned to it by native speakers of the target language, or when speech act strategies are inappropriately transferred from L1 to L2.
pragmatic errors9
Pragmatic errors
  • Sociopragmatic failure.... refers to the social conditions [laced on language in use... while pragmalinguistic failure is basically a linguistic problem, caused by differences in the linguistic encoding of pragmatic force, sociopragmatic failure stems cross-culturally different perceptions of what constitutes appropriate linguistic behavior.”
pragmatic errors10
Pragmatic errors
  • This is an important and insightful distinction, and one which reflects an opposition between those rules and norms which language-specific and those which are culture-specific. However, as language is itself, of course, extremely highly acculturated, the distinction often becomes very fuzzy indeed. It is obviously best, as Thomas points our, to see those terms as referring to the poles of a cline, rather than as discrete categories.
pragmatic errors11
Pragmatic errors
  • At the pragmalinguistic end we are dealing with (mistaken) beliefs about the language and at the socio-pragmatic end with (mistaken) beliefs about the society. Pragmalinguistic error results from a failure to identify or express the situation correctly. Pragmalinguistic error refers, therefore, to a dysfunction in discourse processing and production; sociopragmatic error refers to a failure to perceive, categorize and evaluate social reality in accordance with a particular set of cultural norms. Both result in inappropriate language use.
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Pragmatic errors
  • (a) Englishman: “Can I help you with that?”
  • Japanese lady traveler (burdened with 2 suitcases, baby, etc.): “So sorry, so sorry, you are very kind”
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Pragmatic errors
  • “‘Po moemu’ (in my opinion) and ‘kaztesja’ (it seems to me) are often used in Russian much as we use ‘I think’ in English. Normally these expressions are used to deliver considered judgments (“St. Sophia’a is, in my opinion, the finest example of Byzantine architecture in the Soviet Union .’‘It seems to me there’s someone at the door.”“In my opinion the film begins at eight.”) (Thomas 1983: 102).
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Pragmatic errors
  • Hostess (to foreign visitor who has given her a small present):
  • “Oh, you really shouldn't have!”
  • Visitor (anxious and puzzled): “But I ... why not?”
sociopragmatic failure
sociopragmatic failure
  • A visiting professor from Japan entered the office of his British opposite number. After the briefest of introductions (shaking hands, sitting down) he said “How old are you?.”
sociopragmatic failure1
sociopragmatic failure
  • Riley (1989:237) points out that there are at least tow other categories of pragmatic error which should be taken into consideration. Though both have received a certain amount of attention from anthropologists and ethnographers, they have not been recognized as separate categories, nor have technical descriptive labels been coined for them.
sociopragmatic failure2
sociopragmatic failure
  • One of these categories, which we might tentatively call inchoative, includes errors which are their result of a failure to appreciate the “true” value of discourse, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. The relative status of silence and speech and the overall social role of discourse seems to vary considerably from one culture to another.
sociopragmatic failure3
sociopragmatic failure
  • Obviously, there are marked, intra-cultural variations too: ‘strong, silent men’ may well find themselves married to ‘gossips’, and differences in role and personality also influence how much we say and how much attention is paid to it.
sociopragmatic failure4
sociopragmatic failure
  • Nonetheless, the ethnolinguists are categorical: the quantity of discourse and the value which place upon it are by no means uniform. For example, Gardener (1966) reports that “Men in Pulija (India) almost stop talking around middle age.” Kernan (1977) points out that in Belize (British Honduras) the individual’s social status is largely dependent on his verbal ability, people being classed and categorized according to their speech-act taxonomy and also an advanced metalanguage.
sociopragmatic failure5
sociopragmatic failure
  • Scollon and Scollon (1980) studied the social and communicative relationships between English-speaking Americans and Athabaskan Indians. They drew the conclusion that the reciprocal negative evaluations were in large part due to rhetorical (‘inchoative’) differences: The English speakers “talk to strangers to get to know them,” whereas the Athabaskans “get to know someone in order to be able to speak.”
sociopragmatic failure6
sociopragmatic failure
  • The French find an exchange of differing points of view stimulating and enjoyable, whilst for peoples as different as the Finns and the Japanese (Kunihiro, 1975) “language as an instrument of debate and argument is considered disagreeable and is accordingly avoided.” In most European countries, precision and fluency of expression are signs of intelligence and high social status:
sociopragmatic failure7
sociopragmatic failure
  • In countries such as Morocco and China the sage says very little: “A mouth is for eating with.” Indeed, it is not irrelevant to note the opposition between those societies where a meal is an occasion for conversation and those (e.g. in much of Asia) where it is not.
sociopragmatic failure8
sociopragmatic failure
  • The other category of pragmatic errors is non-linguistic. Clearly this is a vast and rather unsatisfactory class; just as clearly, though, any account which aims at situating pragmatics within a general theory of social action, but which ignores the physical aspects of both the situation and the communication system is bound to be inadequate.
sociopragmatic failure9
sociopragmatic failure
  • Work on dexis (Levinson 1983) and on the visual element in communication (Riley 1979) confirms the points that a description of language use is only one dimension of a description of social competence, that not all communicative behavior is verbal and that there are times when “actions speak louder than words.”
sociopragmatic failure10
sociopragmatic failure
  • An important argument in fact of this approach concerns the status of the ‘appropriate response.’ This has long been recognized as an acid test for pragmatic relevance; yet it is a matter of daily experience that the appropriate response to a request, command, etc. Is not always or uniquely verbal. The acts of passing the salt or opening the window –– or, for that matter, of shaking hands, lifting one’s hat, holding a door open, picking up the phone –– all enter into the fabric of the discourse and are often subject to cultural variation as regards occurrence, meaning and realization.
sociopragmatic failure11
sociopragmatic failure
  • The reverse is also true, of course; there are certain actions which “call for comment” in some cultures but not others –– sneezing or starting a meal, for example. The same is true for non-verbal communication including gesture, facial expression, posture and proxemies, body adapters, etc.
sociopragmatic failure12
sociopragmatic failure
  • Then there is that sub-class of non-linguistic pragmatic errors which is usually known as ‘bad manners’ or a ‘breech of protocol’ or ‘etiquette.’ The theoretical linguist may be surprised to see such matters mentioned here but to the applied linguist they are important since they can be the cause of very strong negative reactions indeed.
sociopragmatic failure13
sociopragmatic failure
  • Clearly, it would be possible to sub-categorize pragmatic error in considerable greater detail by basing the description on the sources of the errors. This would, in fact, give us a taxonomy of communicative interference (a cognitive and psycholinguistic process) in terms of the socio-behavioral errors to which it gives rise.
pragmatic errors15
Pragmatic errors
  • In Riley (1984) the sources of error identified include: propositional misunderstanding, unacceptable topic nomination, breach of constitutive rules, differences in address systems, differences in the pragmatic cover of syntactic structures; lack of fitness in the attribution of role and status, lack of common knowledge, the idiomatic nature of conversation routine, quantitative differences, etc.
sociopragmatic failure14
sociopragmatic failure

Thank you for taking time to read these slides.