Intercultural Communication - A Critical Introduction
Ingrid Piller, Second Edition
Literature in the field of intercultural communication: object of enquiry often does not seem
Intercultural communication in real life is embedded in economic, social, and cultural
globalisation, and transnational mobility resulting from forced or voluntary migration for work,
study, or tourism.
Main challenges of intercultural communication: the linguistic challenges of language learning,
the discursive challenges of stereotyping, and the social challenges of inclusion and justice. Aim of this book: to provide a critical introduction to the field of intercultural communication
from a discourse analytic and sociolinguistic perspective.
The ubiquity of cultural and linguistic contact, mergers and hybrids → strong interest in
intercultural communication. Intercultural communication = communication where:
Language learning and language proficiency on the one hand and;
Stereotyping and the discursive construction of identity on the other
intersect with social inclusion and justice. Grounding in discourse analysis and anthropological linguistics → treats cultural identity,
difference and similarity as discursive constructions.
Grounding in sociolinguistics (particularly bilingualism studies) →
➢ Highlights the use of different languages and/or language varieties as a central aspect of
➢ Illuminates the different prestige of languages and language varieties, and the varying
access that speakers have to them.
Chapter 1: Approaching Intercultural Communication
Fundamental research question: Who makes culture relevant to whom in which context for which
Intercultural Communication: What is it?
Three distinct understandings of intercultural communication (Schollen et al.): ‘Cross-cultural Communication’
Studies in ‘cross-cultural communication’ start from an assumption of distinct cultural
groups, and investigate aspects of their communicative practices comparatively.
Example: Investigation of the ways in which British and Italian service staff of an airline respond
to service failure.
➢ Similar in their ‘behavioural responses’. E.g. most participants claimed they would try to
change an arrangement if doing so was within company regulations. If not, they would
explain to the customer why this is so.
○ Different attitudes towards customers affected by service failure. E.g. Italian
service staff sometimes bent the rules for ‘compassionate cases’, whereas British
workers did not.
○ Intercultural communication:
■ Similarities result from the training all employees of the airline receive.
■ Differences result from the British and Italian culture.
○ Conclusion: attitudes are more influenced by culture and not as amenable to
training as behaviour.
→ Contrastive: Compares the attitudes and communicative behaviours of service workers from
different ‘cultural’ backgrounds, where ‘culture’ is understood as identical to nation (‘British’
and ‘Italian’). ‘Intercultural Communication’
Studies in ‘intercultural communication’ start from an assumption of cultural differences
between distinct cultural groups and study their communication practices in interaction
with one another.
Example: Investigation of the ways in which Korean immigrant shopkeepers in Los Angeles
interact with their African-American customers. Service encounters with Korean customers contained three communicative activities: greeting,
business transaction, closing.
➢ Interactions with African-American customers were more complex → initiated additional
communicative activities (small talk, jokes about current affairs, or personal talk).
○ Korean storekeepers never proactively introduced such additional communicative
○ African Americans often felt ignored and complained about their lack of
involvement (racist attitude).
○ Korean shop-owners/cashiers: considered attempts at personalising the encounter
an imposition and a sign of bad manners (lack of education/good breeding).
➢ Persistence of divergent communicative styles → wider socio-historical context.
○ Long history of racial tensions between immigrant shopkeepers and African
○ Each interaction is turned into a new micro-enactment of prior conflicts.
→ Interactive: Studies shopkeepers and customers from different backgrounds in interaction,
and ‘culture’ is seen as similar to ethnicity and/or race (‘Korean immigrants’ and ‘African
Americans’). ‘Inter-discourse Communication’
The ‘inter-discourse approach avoids any a priori notions of cultural identity.
Asks how culture is made relevant in a text or interaction and how cultural identity is
brought into existence through text and talk. Example: Investigation of the ways in which people who live in tourist destinations are being
represented in travel writing. Travel tourists use three distinct strategies to describe people who live in tourist destinations.
➢ People are referred to in general terms.
○ ‘Locals’, members of a national/ethnic group.
○ Members of a broad social group (‘women’, ‘children’).
○ Described as homogenous and with clearly identifiable attributes (e.g. modest,
➢ One or more prototypical representatives are singled out that the journalist has
➢ People are represented as ‘helpers’ to the tourist, most typically as ‘hospitable locals’.
○ These representational strategies are part of turning a place into a tourist
→ Discursive: Investigates how other people are talked about and cultural belonging is
discursively constructed. Culture is seen as a product of the text instead of a social variable. When referring to the field as a whole, ‘intercultural communication’ is used as an umbrella
term. Author’s argument: