Book review: Multilingual Communication

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri May 27 13:21:33 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List 25-May-2005

TITLE: Multilingual Communication
EDITORS: House, Juliane; Rehbein, Jochen
SERIES: Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism 3
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Alexander Onysko, Department of English (Linguistics), Universitaet
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 participants
- Multilingual individuals who use language(s) to realize these purposes
- 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. Bhrig 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 Bhrig 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.

Bttger'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 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 homilec 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 Bhrig 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 Bhrig 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 Bhrig 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: "Saarbrken" (Saarbrcken)


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:

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. Tbingen: Narr.

House, J. 1997. Translation Quality Assessment. A Model Revisited.
Tbingen: 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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