Pragmatics across languages and cultures

Pragmatics across languages and cultures. Ed. by Anna Trosborg. (Handbook of pragmatics 7.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. xiii, 644. ISBN 9783110214437. $279 (Hb).

Reviewed by Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini, University of Warwick, UK

The series Handbooks of pragmatics, to which this volume belongs, aims to offer comprehensive coverage of a large and varied field. Anna Trosborg has extensive experience in cross-cultural pragmatics acquired over a long career in academia. The international outlook of her work is reflected in the list of contributors, mostly very well-known scholars in key areas of pragmatics research and application. In the preface to the series, the editors remind us that ‘unlike other linguistic disciplines, pragmatics is defined by its point of view more than by its objects of investigation’ (v). It follows that all areas of linguistics can be approached from a pragmatic perspective by focusing on linguistic action in interaction.

This volume concentrates on trends and topics in four major areas of pragmatics across cultures: ‘Contrastive and cross-cultural pragmatics’ (Part 1), ‘Interlanguage pragmatics’ (Part 2), ‘Teaching and testing of second/foreign language pragmatics’ (Part 3), and ‘Pragmatics in corporate culture communication’ (Part 4). The first two parts, containing twelve of the twenty-one chapters, could be understood as defining the traditional core of cross-cultural pragmatics research. Teaching and testing is probably more readily associated with applied linguistics, and corporate communication is an area of interest relatively new to pragmatics. The introduction comments on the chapters and provides an overview of the field that less experienced readers will find useful before turning to the more specialized contents of individual chapters.

It is no coincidence that studies in contrastive, cross-cultural, and intercultural pragmatics are grouped together in this volume; as the editor notes (2), boundaries between the three sub-fields are difficult to trace. In general, contrastive pragmatics has treated ‘language differences as linguistic phenomena’ whereas cross-cultural and interactural pragmatics—the two terms often used interchangeably—have tended to turn to ‘culture’ for an explanation of interactional behavior. In doing so, issues of definitions and concepts of ‘culture(s)’ are bound to arise with pressing frequency and urgency. Many chapters are steeped in the dominant cultural paradigm in the sense that they appear to accept the idea of ‘culture’ as a system of shared values and norms and ‘cultures’ as discrete manifestations largely coextensive with nation-states or groups of nations. The statement ‘Language is culture—culture is language’ (2) has far-reaching epistemological consequences, whether we look at the field as a whole, the position of researchers within it, or the frameworks and methodologies that  they choose to deploy in their work.  The east-west dichotomy pointed out in Rong Chen’s chapter ‘Compliment and compliment response research: A cross-cultural survey’ (79–102), for example, indicates a need for more critical and reflexive approaches in cross-cultural pragmatics. Perhaps these debates will be incorporated in a future edition. Nonetheless, this volume provides us with an accessible and stimulating cross-section of studies by influential scholars in the field.

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