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Cross-cultural pragmatic failure: misunderstanding in verbal communication between speakers of Arabic and English

posted on 24.11.2010, 11:02 by Nafez Antonius Shammas
This thesis discusses the most frequent cases of misunderstanding in verbal communication between speakers of Arabic and English. It draws on Sperber and Wilson's (1986a) Relevance Theory as a general pragmatic framework in order to account for the success or failure of cross-cultural communication. Relevance Theory is discussed in some detail, but is not followed slavishly; rather it is at times criticized for its inadequacy in cross-cultural contexts (Chapters 1, 4 & 8). The inadequacy of the code model in verbal communication between Arabs and Britons is studied in detail (Chapters 2, 3, 5). Cultural mismatch between the two language communities under study is evaluated to account for cross-cultural pragmatic failure (Chapters 6 & 7). The fmdings in this thesis show that linguistic well-formedness is important in cross-cultural communication, but cultural codes and socio-cognitive principles impede the addressee's understanding of the speaker's intent far more. Details of the linguistic factors playing an important role in causing misunderstanding in crosscultural communication reveal that lexical-semantic errors are the most frequent in the English of Arab speakers. However, in terms of the degree of deviation, semantico-grammatical deviations are far more significant. An important fact has been very striking in my findings: the influence of mother tongue transfer on the hearer's perception of the foreign communicator's intent; however, the deviations from well-formedness reflect different degrees of misunderstanding. On the cultural level, an important finding is that not all misunderstandings are overt (Chapter 8). The manipulation of context and expectation play a key role in minimizing the degree and frequency of communicative breakdown. The degree of communicative breakdown caused by cultural mismatch is much higher than that of linguistic errors. Cultural discrepancy also provides great potential for misunderstanding in extended contexts of cross-cultural communication (Chapters 8 & 9).



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Nafez Antonius Shammas

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University. If you are the author of this thesis and would like to make it openly available in the Institutional Repository please contact:

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