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Review of Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais
AUTHOR: Christine Béal TITLE: Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais SUBTITLE: De l'approche comparative à l'analyse des situations interculturelles SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights, 99 PUBLISHER: Peter Lang YEAR: 2010
Kerry Mullan, Language Discipline, RMIT University in Melbourne
SUMMARY Those readers like myself, who have been following Béal's work since the 1990s, will be very pleased to see this book finally in print. Readers new to Béal's work will be equally pleased with this discovery. ''Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais'' is essentially a synthesis of Béal's earlier research carried out in a French company in Melbourne, expanded and updated with more recent examples taken from several different corpora. As the title suggests, the book uses a comparative approach to analyse authentic examples of daily interactions in French and English, exploring the relationship between ways of speaking, context (i.e. appropriate content) and cultural norms -- or what Béal refers to as ''communicative ethos'' (p. 14). The book highlights the cultural values behind certain aspects of the interactional styles of French and English speakers, and examines the ensuing intercultural misunderstandings. Béal employs several complementary frameworks in the analysis of the interactions, namely the theories of pragmatics and speech acts, and the general principles of conversation analysis.
The book consists of five main chapters. These include: the methodological framework of the research; three analysis chapters dealing with turn-taking, rituals and routines, comparison of directive speech acts; and a description of French and English communicative values. The analysis chapters all contain examples of interactions in French, followed by interactions in English, then an analysis of intercultural misunderstandings (supported by post-interviews with the participants of the interactions). While ''Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais'' is aimed principally at teachers and advanced students of English and French, and linguists interested in interaction and intercultural communication, it also offers French and English speakers a tool kit for dealing with each other. While most of the English speakers referred to here are speakers of Australian English, a few speakers of other varieties of English are included; however, as Béal points out, while there will be some differences between the speakers, enough similarities are found to be able to make certain generalisations of interactional behaviour and cultural values of all English speakers. (References to Australians and English speakers will be used interchangeably in this review.)
At this point I must disclose my connection with the author and this publication. When I first encountered Béal's research over a decade ago, her work resonated loudly with me. As a British non-native speaker of French interested in intercultural communication, I found Béal's research fascinating; not only did it answer many questions for me, but it raised some new ones, and set me on the path of my own research. Discovering Béal's work not only influenced my own area of interest, but ultimately led to collaboration. Of particular relevance to this publication are the data collections undertaken in Melbourne in 2000 (corpus Mullan) and 2003 (corpus Béal/Mullan), from which several examples of interaction are quoted and analysed.
EVALUATION Chapter One presents a comprehensive description of the theoretical and methodological background to the research, beginning with the two main aims of the book: to describe patterns of interactional behaviour and implicit communicative norms of French and English speakers; and to link these norms with underlying cultural values. Central to the book -- in addition to the importance placed at all times on the detailed analysis of authentic interactional data -- is Béal's five-level model representing the fact that differences in two languages-cultures can both reflect and be explained by cultural values and priorities. Levels 1 and 2 describe observed linguistic behaviour (analysis chapters Two to Four):
1) linguistic description of discourse in interaction 2) identification of preferential choices and conversational style of each language-culture
Levels 3 to 5 cover increasingly abstract levels of explanation (chapter Five):
3) explanation of interactional behaviour through the notion of ''communicative ethos'' 4) wider frame of cultural values 5) possible sources for the ethos and cultural values in question
Chapter One goes on to discuss the merits of various approaches to the study of the role of culture in discourse, and to describe the data from which the examples of interaction are taken. These consist of recordings made in a professional setting in Melbourne, conversations recorded with guests in the home, examples taken from other corpora, reported anecdotes, and interviews recorded with French and Australian participants.
The remainder of this first chapter deals with the methodology and concepts used in the book, such as the notion of communicative ethos, its relation to other cultural values, and three major axes of ethos: proximity versus distance; hierarchical versus egalitarian; and consensual versus confrontational -- all seen here as continuums, not oppositional, and all of which differ for French and English speakers. Béal revisits Brown and Levinson's model of face and politeness with particular reference to French and English linguistic behaviour, arguing that a ''degree of mutual respect for faces'' should be included in the model as a fourth variable in the assessment of a potential Face Threatening Act (p. 65). The author then outlines and responds to the methodological limitations and generalisability of the study, and the analysis of interactions from a cross-cultural perspective in general, including the question of whether cultural values can really be said to have an impact on language-specific norms of interaction. Béal argues convincingly that they can, using the address system as a concrete example of an overt relationship between the two; any system which uses honorifics must have a cultural notion of hierarchy for example. For less obvious examples, post-interviews with the participants offer an independent interpretation of the interactions to that of the researcher, spontaneously citing examples of 'unusual' language use by their interlocutor, and thereby revealing the role of cultural values.
Chapter Two examines the main source of misunderstandings between French and English speakers: the different turn-taking systems. Béal firstly presents an in-depth discussion of the principles of turn-taking as described in Conversation Analysis (CA), and suggests that, while largely universal, minor differences in turn-taking norms, such as acceptable length of pauses between turns or what constitutes an interruption, are sufficient to cause misunderstandings and feelings of resentment in conversations between French and English speakers. In their post-interviews, the English speakers reported feeling rushed or interrupted by their French interlocutors, while the French speakers complained of a lack of engagement ('commitment' or 'involvement') in the conversation on the part of their Australian interlocutors. The author discusses in some detail the notions of turn constructional units (based on syntactic, pragmatic, prosodic, and non-verbal factors), turn-yielding clues, overlaps, and rapport versus power interruptions in the context of cross-cultural interactions.
The analysis section describes French interactional style, with authentic examples of typical strategies such as overlaps, techniques for holding or regaining the floor, 'echoing' (repeating segments of the interlocutor's speech to show agreement), adding to or finishing the interlocutor's turn to display comprehension and like-mindedness or to offer assistance, and instances of acceptable interruptions. There then follows a description of comparative English interactional style, with examples of longer pauses in and between turns, and a lengthy examination of the semantic range and frequent use of 'well' as a more consensual turn starter than the preferred 'mais' (literally 'but') for French speakers -- even when prefacing a disagreement. Béal suggests that English speakers seem to ''own their turn'' more than French speakers (p. 136). Interestingly, the one time French and English speakers seem to behave similarly with respect to turn-taking is in teasing; in the example given, the English speaker breaks the usual turn-taking rules and finishes their interlocutor's utterance with a humorous remark.
The final section in this chapter illustrates how these conflicting interactional norms can create misunderstandings and tension in an intercultural situation: English speakers are left with the impression that their French interlocutors are impatient and aggressive in conversation, while the French speakers perceive their English interlocutors as 'boring' and 'too serious'. The reader is left with the impression that conversation is not such a serious matter for French speakers; there is a fun element to interaction which is not shared by English speakers. It is almost as if this notion of fun has been replaced by the fear of offending ones' interlocutor; this consideration for the other is then perceived as a lack of warmth and enthusiasm by French speakers.
Chapter Three compares rituals and routines in the two languages-cultures. Following a definition of these terms, a third concept is introduced: ''extended conversational routine''. This distinguishes between short routinised exchanges (which can be easily learnt by second language (L2) learners) and more elaborate exchanges which require more personal improvised input from the speakers, such as the apparently innocuous question ''Did you have a good weekend?''. The remainder of the first part of this chapter explores the cultural values behind ritualised exchanges, including proxemics, punctuality and face work.
The second part of the chapter deals with ritual aspects of opening sequences in professional and social situations. Béal claims that French speakers perceive of the workplace as a shared territory and the entire day as one long conversation, which leads them to dispense with certain rituals such as openings or greetings every time they see each other. Australians, however, consider desks and offices to be private spaces and tend to keep their tasks and exchanges separate, requiring a greater use of redressive negative politeness strategies; frustrations then arise from what Australians see as territorial infringements on the part of the French. While examining crossing the threshold in social exchanges, Béal finds that French greetings contain a high degree of ritualisation, a low regard for punctuality, effusive laughter at the joy of seeing each other, and frequent emotive outbursts and compliments. In contrast, Australian threshold greetings tend to be quicker, but include frequent references to punctuality, more teasing and banter, but fewer compliments; when compliments do occur, they are briefly acknowledged and the topic quickly changed.
The final section of this chapter revisits Béal's seminal work on the question ''Did you have a good weekend?'' (1992) and highlights several implicit interactional rules underlying the typical French and Australian English approaches to this question (rules which reflect the cultural values found elsewhere in French and Australian English interaction). While Australians see this question as a highly routinised almost throwaway line, French speakers see it as a true question, and these differing perceptions cause tension and misunderstandings. French speakers find the exchange too consensual, too factual and rather short, leading them to conclude that Australians are insincere or hypocritical (''why ask me this question if you are not interested in my response?'', cf. also Peeters 1998). Conversely, Australians are surprised at the length and details of the French speaker's reply, and what they consider superfluous information. They also resent the French speakers' attempts to elicit an opinion from them, when they do not see this as the goal of the exchange. Clearly what underlies these frustrations are the differing cultural values: the informality of Australian society versus the degree of intimacy in French relationships; the Australian concern for social harmony versus the more ''engaged'' French discussions; the importance for Australians of being tactful versus the French enjoyment of debate and confrontation. Put simply, one could conclude that Australian English interaction is all about taking care with the others' feelings, whereas in French interaction bypassing certain conventions reaffirms the relationship between the speakers.
Chapter Four deals with directive speech acts (DSAs) using a contrastive pragmatics and an intercultural approach. The first part addresses the linguistic formulation of the speech act as the major source of cultural variation and conflict between French and English speakers. This section introduces the different kinds of DSAs examined (asking for information, making requests, offers), and the notion of softeners in each language-culture, before looking at specific examples.
The author examines French DSAs in professional and social settings. Quantitative data illustrate how French speakers tend to soften their DSAs less than English speakers, and how they use a wide variety of formulations depending on the type of DSA, the weight of the imposition and -- more importantly -- the relationship between the speakers. In the workplace, the hierarchical nature of the relationship is highly significant and reflected in the ways of speaking (with fewer politeness strategies necessary from superior to employee or between intimates: e.g. imperatives, future tense, impersonal verbs like 'il faut', etc.). French DSA strategies also include a range of distancing mechanisms which neutralise the will of the speaker. The author then examines DSAs in the Australian context and finds that English speakers engage in a greater amount of face preserving work (usually through a combination of several softeners at once), whatever the weight of the imposition or face threat, the type of DSA, and the relationship between the speakers. Respect for the other's freedom of action and a concern for non-imposition underlie the linguistic realisation of most DSAs in English, regardless of hierarchy or closeness.
The remainder of the chapter deals with DSAs in cross-cultural interactions and illustrate how the transfer of French strategies into English gives the impression that the French are being rude or dictatorial; imperatives and the future tense are rarely used in English DSAs; according to Wierzbicka (1991: 202), most requests are formulated as ''whimperatives'' in English. While French speakers do use some softeners when speaking English, these are usually limited to one simple softener at a time, such as 'please' or a nominal form of address; hedges, modals and question tags are rarely employed. Conversely, French speakers have trouble identifying the exact nature of the English DSA and the urgency of the task; the imposition-avoidance strategies and ''excessive'' use of hedges are associated with asking for favours in French, and so appear hypocritical and manipulative to them. The final section of the chapter discusses the assessment of roles and decision-making power in both cultures: French executives want to be kept informed of and retain some control of everything, whereas English speaking executives allow for more autonomy in the workplace. The French preference for issuing orders does not sit well with the Australian preference for consensus and autonomy. These macro level cultural values in turn determine the respective micro level linguistic realisation of DSAs.
The final chapter ties together the preceding sections by examining the ethos of French and English speaking cultures through two main dimensions: the expression of the self (emotions, opinions, confrontation), and the treatment of others (respect for autonomy, social distance, face-saving considerations). Béal's aims are twofold here: to connect the interaction patters observed in different contexts within a unified network, and to give L2 learners some tools for successful cross-cultural communication. Theoretical and methodological challenges are raised and answered in the affirmative along the way:
- Can we make generalisations from individual observations? - Can interactional phenomena be extracted from their intra-interactional context for comparison purposes? - Can we establish real links between formal means of expression and underlying cultural values?
Beginning with an analysis of the cultural value attached to self expression in the two cultures, Béal argues that that French speakers tend to be more impulsive than English speakers, reflecting the positive value afforded to spontaneity and sincerity in French culture, as opposed to self-control; English speakers are expected to conform to social expectations. French culture values the frequent expression of opinion (cf. Mullan 2010), while English speakers favour reticence and tact. French speakers see disagreements as less face-threatening than English speakers, who prefer consensus and common ground (cf. Mullan in press).
The next part of the chapter presents cultural values pertaining to the treatment of others. English speakers generally place a greater importance on autonomy and self-reliance than French speakers, who allow a preference for sincerity or familiarity to outweigh the level of an imposition. Hierarchy and social distance are also discussed, the author reiterating that French informality requires fewer negative politeness strategies. It is noted that French speakers distinguish more than English speakers between types of relationships (causal vs. 'real' friends, acquaintances, business relationships etc.), and this is reflected in interaction. English speakers tend to value informality and humour in all situations, and this is evident in the uniformity of their interactions, whomever they are addressing. This is clearly linked to the underlying importance of egalitarianism and not taking oneself too seriously in English speaking cultures. Béal concludes this chapter with a discussion of the different notions of face in each culture, and the ensuing consequences for intercultural communication. The author's concluding remarks restate the aim of the book as being an attempt to do what is rarely done in intercultural communication research: to combine a study of cultural attitudes, behaviours and values with a fine-grained linguistic analysis of authentic data, in order to demonstrate the inseparable nature of both. It is safe to say that this aim has indeed been met.
This is an extremely detailed and thorough book; all claims are meticulously explained and argued for, and supported by the qualitative analysis of relevant authentic extracts from several corpora. The follow up interviews with participants are particularly revealing and add an interesting dimension to the analysis of the data. The level of detail and explanation of certain linguistic concepts is at times more suited to the undergraduate linguistics student, who will find this greatly enhances their understanding of intercultural pragmatics and interactional analysis. However, non-specialists and non-native speakers of French will also find this book very readable and accessible, and the summaries in English at the beginning of each chapter are a welcome innovation by the publisher Peter Lang.
While some non-specialist readers may find some of the theoretical explanations rather detailed and technical, they will find the authentic examples of interaction interesting and revealing. Not only that, but teachers of English or French as a second or foreign language will find in these examples a wealth of material to use in class with their learners (cf. Crozet and Maurer 2003 for an example of how to use Béal 1992 with students of French). This methodical and enlightening book admirably achieves its aim of providing French and English speakers with a tool kit for dealing with each other, and is indeed a useful reference point for anyone embarking on what Béal calls ''the adventure of interculturality'' (p. 16).
REFERENCES Béal, Christine (1992) Did you have a good week-end? Or why there is no such thing as a simple question in cross-cultural encounters. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 15, 1, 23-52.
Béal. Christine (2010) Les interactions quotidiennes en français et en anglais: de l'approche comparative à l'analyse des situations interculturelles. Bern: Peter Lang.
Crozet, Chantal and Maurer, Louise (2003) Teaching French culture in language use. In J. Lo Bianco and C. Crozet (eds.). Teaching invisible culture: classroom practice and theory, 119 -- 145. Melbourne: Language Australia.
Mullan, Kerry (2010) Expressing opinions in French and Australian English discourse: A semantic and interactional analysis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Mullan, Kerry (in press) ''I couldn't agree more, but …'': agreeing to disagree in French and Australian English. In Auger, N., Béal, C. and Demougin, F. (eds.). Interaction et interculturalité: varieté des corpus et des approches. Montpellier: MSHM-PULM.
Peeters, Bert (1998) 'Salut! Ça va? Vous avez passé un bon weekend?' Journal of French language studies 9, 2, 239-257.
Wierzbicka, Anna (1991) Cross-cultural pragmatics. The semantics of human interaction. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Kerry Mullan is lecturer and coordinator of French Studies at RMIT
University in Melbourne, Australia. Her main research interests are
pragmatics, cross-cultural communication, differing interactional styles,
and discourse analysis. Her PhD thesis (La Trobe University, Melbourn)
examined the distinct discourse styles of French and Australian English
speakers in the expression of opinions: specifically the interactional
functions and semantics of the expressions 'I think', and the three French
(approximate) equivalents, 'je pense', 'je crois' and 'je trouve'. Kerry is
currently investigating humour in French and Australian English social
visits with colleagues Christine Béal and Veronique Traverso.