Intercultural communication : a discourse approach
What is a discourse approach?
In a business meeting between Hong Kong Chinese and Anglo–American businessmen, one of the Chinese businessmen might say the following:
Because most of our production is done in China now, and uh, it’s not really certain how the government will react in the run–up to 1997, and since I think a certain amount of caution in committing to TV advertisement is necessary because of the expense. So, I suggest that we delay making our decision until after Legco makes its decision.
Research on discourse shows that this confusion in goals or in interpreting the main the main point of another’s speech is caused by the fact that each side is using different principles of discourse to organize its presentations. In this example the Asian speaker uses a “topic–comment” order of presentation in which the main point ( or comment) is deferred until sufficient background of the topic has been done. The most common form of this structure is this:
Y (topic, background, or reasons)
X ( comment, main point, or action suggested)
In the case given above the westerner might expect something more like the following:
I suggest that we delay making our decision until after Legco makes its decision. That’s because I think a certain amount of caution in committing to TV advertisement is necessary because of the expense. In addition to that, most of our production is done in China now, and it’s really certain how the government will react in the run–up to 1997.
The western discourse would put the suggestion to delay the decision right at the beginning and then follow this with the speaker’s reasons for doing so. The Asian speakers feels uncomfortable putting his suggestion first before he has given his reasoning. This difference in discourse pattern leads the westerner to focus on the opening stages of the discourse as the most crucial while the Asian speaker will tend to look for the crucial points to occur somewhat later.
The result of these different discourse strategies is that there arise the unfair and prejudicial stereotypes of the “inscrutable” Asian or the frank and rude westerner.
Each of us is simultaneously a member of many different discourse systems. We are members of a particular professional or occupational group, a generation, a gender, a region and an ethnicity. As a result, virtually all professional communication is communication across some lines which divide us into different discourse groups or systems of discourse.
Discourse as a field of study includes many different aspects of language use. Discourse analysts study everything from the topic–comment structures of sentences or paragraphs through the analysis of rambling conversations or jokes. In recent years the study of discourse has been extended to include literary, culture and symbolic system. Our basic interest is in face– to–face conversation within speech events such as meetings, conversations, or interviews.
From discourse to discourse
We can find many kind of discourse like “ the discourse of entertainment”, the discourse of medicine, the discourse of law. Our own term for this is the discourse system which we will further clarify. We have choose to focus on the discourse system rather than on culture for several reasons. The first reason is that culture is simply too broad a concept to be of much use in analyzing communication between two or more people from different groups. As we will argue below, when women and men talk, even if they are from the same general culture or even the same region of the same country, communication styles can be very different and may well be based in different discourses. It is often the case that a woman can talk to and be understood by another woman is a stranger, than she can to a man who is very close to her.
For Scollon the idea of culture is mostly too large a concept to really capture the complexity of interdiscourse communication. And we argue that all communication is to some extent interdiscourse communication.
The limits of language
Mr Wong and Mr Richardson have a conversation. Mr Richardson has enjoyed this conversation and when they are ready to part he says to Mr Wong that they really should get together to have lunch sometime. Mr Wong says that he would enjoy that. After a few weeks Mr Wong begin to feel that Mr Richardson has been rather insincere because he has not followed up his invitation to lunch with a specific time and place.
The difference in discourse patterns expected by many Asian speakers of English and by western speakers of English is the source of the problem of the problem between Mr Wong and Mr Richardson. The pattern which we have dern