"Multilingual Communication" (review)
- 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
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
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-70.html
Alexander Onysko, Department of English (Linguistics), Universität
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
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
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
House, J. 1997. Translation Quality Assessment. A Model Revisited. Tü
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.