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Negotiating Intercultural Border Crossings: How People from Diverse Cultural and Linguistic Backgrounds Negotiate Communication and Establish Relations

Victoria, Mabel



There has been a wealth of studies from a variety of disciplines that explore the complex relations between language and culture. However, many of these investigations tend to focus disproportionately on how cultural differences often contribute to misunderstanding, communication breakdowns and failures. Indeed, it can be argued that the problematic nature of communication among individuals from different cultural background has turned intercultural communication research into a “celebration of miscommunication” (Sarangi & Roberts 1993). The present study seeks to bring out the need to move in the direction of paying more attention to communication successes. This is not to underestimate the potential challenges and difficulties that might arise in intercultural encounters; but rather to narrow the gap between the things that go right and things that go wrong. As this study will attempt to illustrate, success in communication is “by far, the most natural and common state-of-affairs” (Kelly, Elliot & Fant 2001).

This research analyzes naturally occurring audio-recorded data collected from a 12-week ethnographic study of an employment preparation program for Canadian immigrants where English is used as a common language. Research participants consist of teachers and adult students who come from different national and ethnic origins. Findings illustrate how group members subvert institutional classroom discourse, challenge (im) politeness conventions and create new rules for negotiating meaning while at the same time maintaining solidarity and harmony. As Blommaert (1998) argues, when members of different cultures meet, “people shift into a medium which is no one's property,” and “cultural conventions get sacrificed in a split second.”

BLOMMAERT, J. (1998) Different approaches to intercultural communication: a critical survey. Lernen und Arbeiten in einer international vernetzten und multikulturellen Gesellschaft, Expertentagung. University of Bremen.

KELLY, M., ELLIOT, I., FANT, L (eds.) Third Level, third space: Intercultural communication and language in European Higher Education. Bern, Peter Lang.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name 18th Sociolinguistics Symposium
Start Date Nov 1, 2010
End Date Nov 4, 2010
Deposit Date Dec 20, 2021
Public URL