Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006, 24 Pages
Term Paper (Advanced seminar)
2.1. What is Pragmatics?
2.2. Cross-Cultural Pragmatics
3. Pragmatic presupposition and the problem of ethnocentricity
4. Case Studies
4.1. Advice, Requests and Tags
4.2. Opinions and Exclamations
4.3. Addressivity and Social Deixis
5. Different Cultural Values
5.3. Intimacy, Closeness and Informality
If one looks at the different cultures from a point of view far away, one already can recognize some of the characteristics which made up a culture and at the same time make it different from other cultures. Every person, including you and me, is an individual but also a part of culture and society. So if we start to communicate with each other, it isn’t only important what you and I think or believe; it also plays a role from where you and I are coming and of which culture we are part of. The following work is going to explore the topic of cross-cultural pragmatics with the Anglo Saxon culture as the initial point.
The first chapter will clarify the terms of ‘pragmatics’ and ‘cross-cultural pragmatics’ by trying to give definitions or at least detailed descriptions of these two concepts.
The second chapter then will look behind the term of ‘pragmatic presupposition’ by analyzing some examples. Furthermore, the problem of ethnocentricity is going to be explained and examined further as to its role in the formation of opinion about other cultures.
In the following chapter the theory of the previous chapters is going to be employed by studying different cases which are mostly chosen from the Polish, Anglo Saxon, Australian and Japanese culture. The first case includes the different forms of address and requests and its pragmatic meaning within the different cultures. The usage of tag questions in different languages will also be studied. In the second case study the expression of opinions and exclamations is going to be characterized and described as to their forms and usage. The last case of the third chapter is concerned with the term of ‘addressivity’ coined by Bakhtin and the marking of social affiliation, namely the social deixis. In this case study the forms of address in different cultures are going to be presented including the distinction between familiar and reverential addressing forms.
The fourth and final chapter is going to have a look at the different cultural values and traditions among different cultures with special regard to the English, American, Polish and Japanese culture. The first value to be determined is ‘cordiality’ which will point out the usage of diminutives in Anglo Saxon and Polish culture. The following part is going to have a closer look at the notion of politeness in several cultures. The third part is going to display the importance of values such as intimacy, closeness and informality in different cultures. The last part of the final chapter is going to investigate the role of sincerity as a cultural value in Eastern Europe as well as in Western Europe.
The work is going to give an overview on different speech acts and values from intercultural pragmatic perspective.
The academic field of pragmatics offers a wide range of possible definitions and doesn’t provide clear-cut boundaries to the adjacent fields of semantics and sociolinguistics. The often used definition of pragmatics as the study of language use isn’t sufficient at all, so that one rather has to look what pragmaticists are doing, namely to study the interrelation of the structure of language and the principles of the usage of language. A further definition already comes quite close to the real meaning of pragmatics:
“Pragmatics is the study of those relations between language and context that are grammaticalized, or encoded in the structure of a language.” (Levinson 1983: 9)
This definition, however, lacks the important phenomena of conversational implicature. If one has a look at pragmatics from a wider point of view without exactly defining it, pragmatics can be divided into two categories. The first one is the universal pragmatics which looks at the aspect of context and its encoding. The second category is the language-specific pragmatics which has a look at the pragmatic system of an individual language. During further research on a suitable definition of pragmatics, linguists also created the idea of a hybrid theory. This theory proposes that semantics and pragmatics should work together to align a homogeneous system for each of them. Considering all the aspects pragmatics is involving one comes to the conclusion that pragmatics may be nothing more than the aspect study of meaning which is not captured by semantics. Such definition doesn’t cut out important parts of pragmatic studies and it also leaves open the basis for new ideas.
The notion of appropriateness was also of great interest of pragmatic linguists who saw it as an important concept for pragmatics. Yet, several considerations of the difficulties of the concept of appropriateness led to a change of opinions. The reasons were two main problems, of which one regarded the pragmatic implications of an utterance. If we have, for example, the sentence: “John doesn’t regret cheating.” (Levinson 1983: 26) we assume that the sentence would only be appropriate if John actually cheated. On the contrary, however, it could also be possible that John didn’t cheat and the sentence would still be appropriate. So, the usage of appropriateness here for defining the pragmatic circumstances would be clearly wrong. The second main problem regards the concept of irony used in utterances because “ironies take their effect and their communication import, and thus their appropriateness, precisely from their inappropriateness” (Levinson 1983: 26).
As it was said already at the beginning, it is difficult to draw a line between semantics and pragmatics, on the one hand, and pragmatics and sociolinguistics, on the other hand. The separation of pragmatics from semantics was already hinted to in explanation that pragmatics considers the meaning of language which is left out by semantics. To separate these two fields further, semantics must be restricted to truth-conditional context. The differentiation between pragmatics and sociolinguistics comes to be a greater problem. Considering honorifics, the polite forms of addressing, pragmatics is concerned with the actual meanings of such terms and sociolinguistics is concerned with the norms for the usage of those honorifics. However, looking at a wider range of pragmatics, it will have to access some sociolinguistic information to contribute to the understanding of language. On the other hand, also sociolinguistics is often dependent on pragmatics when it comes to the inter-relations between society and language which are normally displayed in the systems of grammar.
The aims of a grammatical theory are described differently by Katz and Gazdar. Katz is of the opinion that the beginning should be the complete grammatical characterization of the sentence and informative aspects about the content. The aim for him then would be a register of representations to cover the full meaning of the utterance. For Gazdar, in contrast, the aim lies the change of the context that means that there has to take place a context shift created by the utterance itself.
It becomes clear that there no completely satisfactory definitions for pragmatics, which is the same with all academic fields of linguistics.
In the recent years, it came to a rising reaction against the universalism of pragmatics, which claimed special pragmatic functions and modes to be universal, accounting for every other language culture. As other cultures use different languages which are underlying different traditions and values, their pragmatic system, consequently, is likely to be different. Under that statement a new academic field was created, namely cross-cultural pragmatics. The main concept, according to Wierzbicka, is that in different cultural societies the members speak differently and act differently. Such differences are based on different cultural values with the speaking culture which may cause misunderstandings in communication with other cultures. To avoid such misunderstandings, one has to analyse the pragmatic nature of a distinct language by looking at the pragmatic functions which are differently grammaticalized in different languages. Only in this manner, one can try to make a comparison between the different pragmatic natures of each language. Cross-cultural pragmatics isn’t important only for comparing different cultures but also for general pragmatics as a whole. General pragmatics is only able to phrase its theories with the help of cross-cultural studies.
The variation of speech act is also one characteristic feature when describing different languages. An example would be complementing, which is widely spread in the American culture. Americans would be likely to use a complement in a situation where other cultures wouldn’t use it. Another example is the concept of indirectness which is used very often in the Anglo-Saxon culture. They formulate their sentences very often in an indirect style to keep more distance to the addressee and also to be polite. If one starts to compare different cultures regarding their indirectness in speech acts, one can say that the Greeks are more indirect than the Americans. The Hebrew speakers, on the contrary, are more direct than even the Americans or British. If comparing Germans to British, the German speakers are clearly more direct than the English. The character of speech acts is dependent from each culture and the consequence would be the variation of pragmatic validity within every culture.
The overall question is the appropriateness of particular expressions in particular contexts and those contexts differ from culture to culture. The study of interlanguage pragmatics, therefore, is very important to understand the language and the underlying values of each culture and to make it easier to communicate with other cultures.
Cultural misunderstandings are mostly caused by different presuppositions existing in different cultures. The solution would be to look beneath the surface of every culture’s languages and to find their underlying principles and functions which constitute the presupposition. The following short conversation between a Western tourist and a Japanese is an example of such a cultural misunderstanding based on missing presuppositions:
“Tourist: Is there a toilet around here?
Attendant: You want to use?
Tourist (somewhat astonished): Sure I do.
Attendant: Go down the steps.” (Mey 2001: 264)
The problem here lies in the different pragmatic presupposition of the Japanese culture. The Western tourist thought that his presupposition to use the toilet would be the same as for this Japanese attendant. The Japanese, however, wanted to be sure whether the tourist wanted to use the toilet or wanted to make a request about toilets in Japan. In the alter case then he would have directed the tourist to a person who could give better advice. It becomes clear here that the knowledge of the different pragmatic presuppositions is important to avoid failures or misunderstanding in intercultural communication.
Beside the different cultural presuppositions there is another problem concerning the starting point of studying and analyzing speech acts and pragmatics of other cultures: ethnocentricity or ethnocentrism. People who are having such an ethnocentric view assume that their own culture is the norm and what holds for their language also holds for all the other ones. Furthermore, they often think the other culture to be strange and eventually discriminate it by referring to it for example as “red-skins” or “spaghettis”. Within the development to the ethnocentric view the word ‘Creole’ made a change and is now used to refer to people who are talking badly or broken. The ethnocentric view leads to false assertions and doesn’t open the eye for an objective view on other cultures.
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