intercultural communication in the new era

“There were around 763 million international travelers in 2004, but nearly three-quarters of visits involved visitors from a non-English-speaking country traveling to a non-English-speaking destination. This demonstrates the scale of need for face-to-face international communication and a growing role for global English.” – Graddol, 2006, p. 29

English does seem to be slowly extending its tentacles across the globe, and whether this means a slow trend toward linguistic homogenization, or rather the indiginization of English in local contexts, giving rise to a plethora of ‘Englishes‘ that may be more or less mutually intelligible, the abstract concept of ‘English’ as a tool for (intercultural) communication holds a place in the mind of a growing number of people across our pale blue dot called Earth.

As these Englishes adapt themselves to specific locales, or more abstract contexts such as institutions or pop-culture, there seems to be an unstoppable unfolding of creativity that pervades all language use, constantly throwing new uses of language into existence:

The message to be gleaned from dipping our toes in the clear and muddy waters of Heraclitus’ river is that we need to understand that things both are and are not. At the very least, in order to understand creative language acts we have to engage with the textual worlds of others rather than remain only in our own. And to do so may take an intellectual leap from the applied linguistic trajectory of thought that emphasizes difference as observable non-isomorphism to an alternative world in which we can never write the same thing, say the same words, use the same language, step into the same river twice. Language creativity is about sameness that is also difference, or to put it differently/similarly, language creativity is about sameness that is also difference.

Alastair Pennycook

Claire Kramsch describes this as the ‘symbolic competence’ of language users:

Social actors in multilingual settings, even if they are non-native speakers of the languages they use, seem to activate more than a communicative competence that would enable them to communicate accurately, effectively and appropriately with one another.  They seem to display a particularly acute ability to play with various linguistic codes and with the various spatial and temporal resonances of these codes.

The “new era” in the title refers to the increasing modes of communication available to human beings and how language has adapted to this new context of interaction:

“The advent of the twenty-first century has witnessed a revolution in the contexts and contents of intercultural communication.  Technological advances such as chat rooms, e-mails, personal weblogs, Facebook, Twitter, and mobile text messaging, on the one hand, and the accelerated pace of people’s international mobility, on the other, have given new meaning to the words “intercultural communication.”  –Sharifian and Jamarani (2013, p. 4).

An interesting aspect of this kind of research is the questionability of the ‘native-speaker’ as a legitimate concept.  This is a strand of thinking that has been developing in other fields of applied linguistics, even SLA!, and we may one day see the notion of the “native speaker” slip away into ‘irrelevancy:

“Often assigning the status of “native speaker” is based on nonlinguistic factors, such as race, color of skin, place of birth, first name, surname, etc., rather than linguistic competence.  Also, some speakers identify themselves either as a native speaker or a nonnative speaker based on identity factors rather than linguistic repertoire.  Moreover, in the current state of the world, with the majority of the English-speaking population not being NS, the issue of “nativeness” becomes rather irrelevant.”

Although the notion of the NS (native-speaker) seems to be slowly (or quickly depending on the field) eroding, it will, I have little doubt, remain a firmly held bastion of adherence in cognitive science and linguistics, as the grammaticality (acceptability) judgment task, one of the main ‘experimental’ methods for extracting empirical data (in particular linguistic competence) on the language faculty in human brains, hinges on the NS-model’s robustness as a reality of language learning and use.

If you’re interested in cultural linguistics, although I still have a few issues of my own with the approach, hopefully to be worked out in writing in the not-too-far/near-future, you might want to check out Farzad Sharifian’s inaugural professorial lecture at Monash Universtiy, to get a better idea of the kinds of research being done when the heading includes “intercultural communication.”

Here are a couple talks that (critically) explore the notion of the ‘native-speaker’ in more depth:  “The Invention of the Native Speaker” by  Thomas Paul Bonfiglio and “Authenticity and Legitimacy in Multilingual Second Language Acquisition (SLA)” by Claire Kramsch

So if you’re interested in new era communication, in particular computer mediated communication (CMC) in the contexts of intercultural communication, then this might be an interesting book for you:

 Sharifian, F. & Jamarani, M. (2013) Language and Intercultural Communication in the New Era.  Routledge

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