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"Multilingual Communication" (review)

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  • Don Osborn
    FYI. The title reviewed here has little to do with reading/literacy, but seems important for exploring dimensions of multilingualism. (Fwd from Linguist
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2005
      FYI. The title reviewed here has little to do with reading/literacy,
      but seems important for exploring dimensions of multilingualism. (Fwd
      from Linguist list)... DZO

      Date: 25-May-2005
      From: Alexander Onysko <csab4165uibk.ac.at>
      Subject: Multilingual Communication

      EDITORS: House, Juliane; Rehbein, Jochen
      TITLE: Multilingual Communication
      SERIES: Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism 3
      PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
      YEAR: 2004
      Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-70.html

      Alexander Onysko, Department of English (Linguistics), Universität
      Innsbruck, Austria


      The volume weaves various strands of multilingual communication into
      a multi-faceted work, which, to a large extent, reflects research
      conducted at the Research Centre on Multilingualism at the University
      of Hamburg, Germany. After two introductory contributions,
      multilingual communication is discussed as "Mediated multilingual
      communication" (part I),"Code-switching" (part II), and as "Rapport
      and politeness" in multilingual settings (part III). Pragmatic issues
      also play a role in the functional analyses of part IV ("Grammar and
      discourse in a contrastive perspective"). According to their
      different foci the contributions go beyond canonical issues of
      multilingual communication and language contact and offer insights
      into pragmatics and translation studies.


      In the opening contribution, "What is 'multilingual communication'",
      House and Rehbein discuss the premise of the volume. For them
      multilingual communication comprises the following characteristics:
      - The use of several languages for the common purposes of
      - Multilingual individuals who use language(s) to realize these
      - The different language systems which interact for these purposes
      - Multilingual communication structures, whose purposes make
      individuals use several languages (p. 1).

      Furthermore, the editors broach the issues of multi-language
      constellations, discourse type (written and spoken), and the
      importance of multilingual communication in institutional settings.
      In terms of research the authors stress the method of contrasting
      languages, and they sketch a list of research objectives for
      multilingual communication. The introduction concludes with brief
      synopses of the individual contributions in the volume.

      Clyne's introductory article "Towards an agenda for developing
      multilingual communication with a community base" calls for the
      creation of institutional efforts to foster multilingualism through
      maintenance of immigrant languages. Taking the example of Australia
      where "over 200 languages are used in the homes" across the continent
      (p. 21), Clyne sees a vast potential for establishing curricular
      offerings of minority languages particularly in border areas and
      large cities throughout the European nation states. In order to
      underline the benefits of multilingualism, the author argues against
      some myths, which penetrate popular belief about multilingualism such
      as the notions that language develops autonomously and does not need
      institutional support, that the standard of the national language is
      declining in multilingual settings, and that two or more languages
      stand in a competitive relationship in a speaker's brain bearing
      detrimental effects on the speaker's language skills. Clyne also
      raises the question why globalization leads to linguistic monoculture
      instead of linguistic pluralism.

      Part I "Mediated multilingual communication" features four articles,
      all of which deal with multilingual communication on the interface of
      translation or interpretation between L1 and L2. Bührig and Meyer
      investigate the role of ad-hoc interpreters as mediators in
      communication between doctors (L1 German) and patients (L1 Turkish or
      Portuguese). Despite the fact that ad-hoc interpreters in the study
      failed to express essential parts of the doctor's message (in
      particular by neglecting modal and passive structures), the patients
      still consented to the doctor's proposals for treatment.

      In the "Interaction of spokenness and writtenness in audience design"
      Baumgarten and Probst discuss the use of features of spoken language
      in English and German popular scientific writings. They follow a
      functional approach to text analysis (Halliday 1979), and draw on
      Biber's dimensions for distinguishing spoken from written language
      (1988, 1995). A comparison between English original text, German
      parallel (original) text, and a German translation of the English
      original show an interesting outcome for the spoken language features
      of a) usage of speaker and hearer deictics and b) coordinating and
      subordinating conjunctions in sentence initial and medial position.
      While the English original incorporates more of these features than
      the German parallel text, the German translation takes a middle
      position between the two original versions. This indicates that, in
      the process of translation, English lexico-grammatical patterns can
      boost the frequency of the same patterns in a German translation,
      i.e. English exerts influence on German through "covert translation".

      Another phenomenon of covert translation is presented in Bührig and
      House's paper "Connectivity in translation", which compares the
      German translation of the English transcript of a speech on business
      ethics delivered at Florida A&M University in 1997. The original and
      the translation exhibit differences in the realization of textual
      connectivity as exemplified by diverging uses of temporal clauses and
      prepositional phrases, by alternative renderings of discourse
      markers, and by a lack of lexical repetition, list structures, and
      compositional parallelism in the German translation. In terms of
      these connective features the German translation appears in a style
      that is more written and formal than the English original. According
      to the authors these differences arise from the application of
      a "cultural filter" (House 1977, 1997), which leads to a pragmatic
      shift in the process of translation.

      Böttger's contribution "Genre-mixing in business communication"
      portrays how a translation can diverge from the original when the
      genre from the source language text is unknown in the same textual
      function in the target language. Thus, Anglo American corporate
      philosophies are typically expressed in a "creed genre" (e.g.
      repetitive sentence beginnings, alliteration, lexical repetition, and
      parallel structures) and communicate future-oriented values, both of
      which are lost in the German translations. Instead, the German
      versions express corporate philosophies indirectly and strike a
      warning note with the usage of "nur dann ... wenn"-constructions
      ('only if...then'). The author claims that a reason for this genre-
      mixing is tied to the fact that the text type of Anglo American
      corporate philosophies has only recently been imported into the
      German language-cultural area.

      In Part II the phenomenon of code-switching is viewed from three
      different perspectives. Holmes and Stubbe ("Strategic code-switching
      in New Zealand workplaces") relate to the process of identity
      construction and to the expression of intergroup solidarity by means
      of code-switching between speakers of Maori English, Pakeha English
      (English spoken by European, mainly British, settlers), and Samoan.
      By analyzing the social affective functions of code-switches recorded
      in various working environments in New Zealand, the authors conclude
      that speakers of Maori English and Samoan switch from their
      distinctive intragroup codes closer to Pakeha English when
      interacting with Pakeha English speakers. In turn there is some
      evidence that the latter also employ features of Maori English to
      express solidarity with speakers of Maori English.

      Edmondson's article "Code-switching and world-switching in foreign
      language classroom discourse" deals with a special case of code-
      switching since, in institutional language instruction, code-switches
      between common language and subject language are often employed by
      the teacher as an instructional tool allowing her/him to switch
      worlds, i.e. roles, from an initiator and model of target language
      discourse to an institutional pedagogic personae. For Edmondson, the
      analysis of learner and teacher interaction during English lessons in
      a German secondary school shows that a lack of code-switching, i.e.
      world-switching, can lead to miscommunication and pedagogic disarray
      that seems detrimental to the learning environment. Thus, the author
      concludes that a monolingual approach of target language only fails
      to account for the complexity of foreign language classroom discourse
      and that teachers should not "feel guilty or unprofessional, if they
      use a common language in order to communicate with learners, or,
      indeed, to teach them" (p. 175).

      "The neurobiology of code-switching" presents the results of a study
      based on fMRI-scanning of subjects' brain activities while reading a
      version of Harry Potter riddled with intersentential code-switches
      between German (L1) and English (L2). The aim of the study is to map
      the change of brain activity induced by code-switching and thus
      investigate whether different languages are neurologically
      represented in different areas of the brain. The results for three
      subject groups (medical students, English language students, and
      interpreters of L1 and L2) demonstrate that reading in L2 causes
      increased activation in Broca and Wernicke areas and in the right
      Broca area located in the right hemisphere. Activations in the right
      hemisphere are significantly higher in subjects with a pronounced
      discrepancy of L1 and L2. As the difference between L1 and L2
      competence decreases, subjects show a stronger left lateralization.
      Additional activations at the moment of code-switching are measured
      in the prefrontal cortex (BA 9 and 10) as well as in the anterior
      cingulum. However, the authors conclude that these areas are not
      specialized in code-switching but generally function as centers of
      attention, comparison, and control.

      Part III "Rapport and politeness" includes two articles addressing
      different pragmatic issues. In "Rapport management problems in
      Chinese-British business interactions" Spencer-Oatey and Xing
      document a case study of miscommunication between British and Chinese
      businessmen during a visit of a Chinese delegation at the
      headquarters of a British company in England. The authors analyze a
      combination of discourse data and post-event interviews by means of a
      multiple level account of miscommunication (Coupland et.al. 1991).
      After the awkward business interactions, the English and Chinese
      participants have mainly held the interpreter responsible for the
      occurrence of miscommunications.

      "Introductions: Being polite in multilingual settings" offers a
      theoretical and empirical account on introduction formulae as
      instances of polite action. In their theoretical framework Rehbein
      and Fienemann assert six stages of action systems when people become
      acquainted: "strangeness, permission to introduce, naming and
      categorization, action system of (fleeting) acquaintanceship, longer
      lasting action system (getting to know questions), and familial type
      relationship (intimate relation)" (p. 234). In this multi-stage
      model, introduction formulae cover the stages from strangeness to
      (fleeting) acquaintanceship. The main empirical part of the article
      consists of a qualitative analysis of a conversation during a dinner
      party as a student (L1 Arabic) enters the room and is greeted and
      introduced in German by his fellow students (native speakers of
      Arabic, Estonian, Turkish, and German). From this and other speech
      situations the authors infer that patterns of politeness can be
      transferred from L1 to L2 through a process of pragmatic transfer.
      Rehbein and Fienemann also establish homileïc discourse
      (characterized by linguistic actions such as storytelling, bantering,
      irony...) as an intercultural and interlinguistic foundation of
      polite speech acts.

      Part IV "Grammar and discourse in a contrastive perspective" features
      two thematically related articles comparing features of German and
      Japanese grammar and their diverse discourse functions. Kameyama
      analyzes "Modal expressions in Japanese and German planning
      discourse". While German expresses modality through subjunctive verb
      forms, modal verbs, and matrix constructions (e.g. Ich glaube, dass;
      ich denke dass), Japanese employs complex modal constructions, e.g.
      negative statements, interrogative particle 'ka', deliberative 'na'
      and symbolic expressions. A case study portrays how, through
      interference, an L1 German speaker fails to coherently apply Japanese
      modality structures and thus conveys the image of a self-centered,
      insensitive and uncooperative speaker. This leads the author to
      conclude that, for the purpose of politeness, language teaching
      should focus on the contrast of expressing modality in German and

      The final contribution to the volume, "A comparative analysis of
      Japanese and German complement constructions with matrix verbs of
      thinking and believing" illustrates the differences and similarities
      of the German "ich glaub(e)-construction" and the Japanese "to omou"-
      construction in expert discourse (academic conferences and
      presentations and commercial presentations). Hohenstein divides
      the 'I think-constructions' into various subgroups according to the
      use of different complementizers (Japanese) and according to their
      occurrence as matrix constructions or as de-grammaticalized matrix
      constructions (German). For Hohenstein these distinctions make clear
      that even though 'I think-constructions' exhibit some crosslinguistic
      similarities such as speaker-deictic reference and the embedding of
      propositions, they are in fact non-equivalent due to language
      specific syntactic and pragmatic functions.


      The volume addresses a vast variety of aspects of multilingual
      communication, which renders it highly recommendable for a readership
      interested in multilingual issues, in translation studies, and in the
      functional-pragmatic analysis of discourse. Individual contributions
      might also appeal to researchers with an eye for the foreign language
      classroom and to linguists with an interest in neurobiology. Despite
      its broad thematic scope, many of the articles carry a pragmatic
      undertone, which acts as a binding element of the different parts of
      the volume. The four parts are balanced with a slight tilt towards
      the relationship of translation and multilingualism, and the title of
      part IV promises more diversity than the two thematically related
      articles hold.

      Further strengths of the volume are the cohesive style of its
      contributions and the accessible analyses of a wealth of discourse
      data with the exception of Bührig and Meyer's article on ad-hoc
      interpreting of doctor-patient-communication. In this case more
      examples of doctor-patient discourse and a direct comparison with the
      utterances of the ad-hoc interpreter would have more vigorously
      illustrated their claim that the impersonal and general reference of
      the doctor is largely lost in the ad-hoc translations.

      In general the issue of mediated multilingual communication deserves
      special notice since the actual creators of the discourse produce
      their speech acts from a largely monolingual point of view.
      Multilingual competence in the relevant discourse languages is
      confined to the interpreter or translator who is, however, not the
      primary source of the speech act. Thus, from a perspective of
      multilingualism, the mediator forms a center of attention. While this
      role is apparent in the field of translation theory, a separate
      description of the mediator's function in multilingual communication
      seems necessary in order to establish a clear connection between
      mediation and multilingual communication for a broader multilingual-
      minded audience. This need for clarification is particularly evident
      in the situation of ad-hoc interpretation. As Bührig and Meyer
      imply, the lack of modal and passive constructions in the
      interpretations of the doctor's utterance is dependent on the
      individual language skills of the unprofessional interpreters and
      their relationship to the patient as relatives or nurses and is not a
      question of what is feasible in terms of translational equivalence.
      The latter is at the core of Bührig and House's
      contribution "Connectivity in translation", which is an impressive
      and detailed account of how a speech on business ethics delivered in
      American English looses its original expressiveness through the
      application of a cultural filter in the process of translation into
      German. Their clear demonstration of the deviance of original and
      translation evokes the reader's curiosity for alternative means of
      expression in the German version.

      From the diverse perspectives on multilingualism in the volume, "The
      neurobiology of code-switching" stands out as one of the first
      attempts that discuss multilingualism in a neurological framework. As
      the authors remark, the MRI technique allows for new, albeit limited,
      ways of investigating brain activity in language reception.
      Thus, "MRI answers questions regarding the localization of neuronal
      activations, but not questions concerning the temporal course of
      activations" (p. 184). In this respect it would be interesting to
      know by which methods the authors were able to distinguish MRI scans
      during or at the moment of code-switching from MRI scans of other
      brain activities.

      In "Modal expressions in Japanese and German planning discourse"
      Kameyama arrives at the conclusion that an improper use of modal
      constructions (caused by interference from the speaker's L1, German)
      conveys an impression of impoliteness in a formal Japanese discourse
      situation. While convincing from an objective point of view, the
      transcript of the specific discourse situation in the study alludes
      to the fact that the listener's background knowledge about the
      speaker can also influence the perception of the speaker's degree of
      politeness. Thus, at the beginning of the transcript before the L2
      Japanese speaker commences his report, the L1 Japanese audience jokes
      about him and says that he can deliver his speech in German. This
      shows that the listeners are aware of the fact that the speaker's
      Japanese might not meet native standards. Having established a common
      ground of expectations for the following speech act, the L2 Japanese
      speaker's improper way of expressing modality could be interpreted as
      a lack of language competence by the L1 Japanese listeners, and so
      they might not necessarily regard his speech as impolite.

      Altogether "Multilingual Communication" is a thought provoking and
      stimulating volume that not only indicates the vastness of the field,
      but also offers an in-depth view on diverse aspects of multilingual
      communication. In its complexity it reaches out to a wide target
      audience from the fields of multilingualism, language contact,
      translation studies, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.

      p. 28: "functionally bilingually"
      p. 30: "counties" (countries)
      p. 70: "written is spoken" (written and spoken)
      p. 101: "discourse makers" (discourse markers)
      p. 159: "language us" (language use)
      p. 160: "targettted"
      p. 165: "discrepacy"
      p. 179: "Saarbrüken" (Saarbrücken)


      Biber, D. 1988. Variation across speech and writing. Cambridge: UP.

      Biber, D. 1995. Cross-linguistic patterns of register and variation:
      diachronic similarities and differences. In D. Biber (ed.),
      Dimensions of register variation: A Cross-Linguistic Comparison, pp.
      280-301, Cambridge: UP.

      Coupland, N., Wiemann, J. M., and Giles, H.. 1991. Talk as problem
      and communication as miscommunication: an integrative analysis. In N.
      Coupland, H. Giles and J. M. Wiemann (eds.), Miscommunication and
      Problematic Talk, pp. 1-17, Newbury Park: Sage.

      Halliday, M. A. K. 1979. Language as social semiotic: the social
      interpretation of language and meaning. London: Arnold.

      House, J. 1977. A Model for Translation Quality Assessment. Tü
      bingen: Narr.

      House, J. 1997. Translation Quality Assessment. A Model Revisited. Tü
      bingen: Narr.


      Alexander Onysko is a PhD candidate at Innsbruck University, Austria.
      His research interest is language contact and multilingualism. The
      topic of his dissertation is: "Anglicisms in German: borrowing,
      lexical productivity, and code-switching in a written corpus of 'Der
      Spiegel'. He currently teaches German at Macalester College in St.
      Paul, MN.
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