A Study of Cross-Cultural Pragmatic Failure

Essay by Akris September 2004

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Cross-cultural communication means communication between people from different cultures. We use the term cross-cultural communication instead of intercultural communication because it is too restrictive. This term implies a comparison between cultures (for example, different styles of leadership). More precisely, cross-cultural communication is communication between people whose cultural perceptions and symbol systems are distinct enough to alter the communication event. The labels race, ethnic groups, and co-cultural communication are three forms of cross-cultural communication. The learners of foreign languages have to study cross-cultural communication because

a) We are living in a changing world. Changes in technology, travel, economic and politics, immigration patterns are so great that we have to increasingly communicate with people from different cultures. The cross-cultural communication will continue to grow in both frequency and intensity.

b) Diverse cultural backgrounds influence communication in many ways: one's cultural backgrounds and experiences help shape how one sends and receives messages.

c) Linguistic studies in the field of pragmatics have reminded us awareness of the degree to which cross-cultural communication is affected by culturally related factors.

d) Nonverbal communication such as gesture, posture, and facial expression is of great importance. Nonverbal elements are proved to be the most culturally influenced part of behavior.

2.0 Pragmatic Failure in Cross-Cultural Communication

2.0.1 Pragmatic Failure

Pragmatic failure was first proposed by Thomas (1983:9) to refer to the inability to understand what is meant by what is said. In cross-cultural communication people form different cultural backgrounds speak the same language, but their communication may break down due to pragmatic differences in ways of thinking, rules of speaking, social values, educational backgrounds, lexical connotations and other factors. The term cultural mistakes used by Hu Wenzhong (1985) to refer to language and behavior that is inappropriate or unacceptable to most native speakers, and he considers that cultural mistakes...