Intercultural understanding by cultural perspectivising. An analysis of of biographical interviews about the famous East German (or GDR) car ‘der TRABI’

Katrin Beermann, Jan D. ten Thije

University of Tilburg, The Netherlands


This paper challenges traditional presumptions in the field of intercultural communication: the focus on intercultural misunderstanding. In contrast, the analytical purpose of this paper concerns the reconstruction of intercultural understanding linguistically (Bührig & ten Thije, 2006). Linguistic research on intercultural discourse that focuses on beyond misunderstanding reflects on the questions as to what extent different linguistic means and processes contribute to intercultural understanding as they enable the interlocutors to reflect on ongoing intercultural discourse and to deal with potential conflicts or to benefit from the synergy of the language and cultural contact (ten Thije, 2003).

Ten Thije (2006) proposes a three-step strategy of perspectivising: 1) generalizing, 2) perspectivising and 3) contrasting cultures that reproduces the process of taking into account the communicative expectations in intercultural discourse. These three steps can be determined as follows: by generalising, an interactant considers his speech action as a standard solution; by perspectivising, he locates his speech actions in the actual speech situation taking into account standards of the other. By contrasting cultures, the speaker enables the hearer to compare the speaker's cultural standards with his own and attain an adequate interpretation of the discourse.

In this paper, we will use the three-step strategy model to study perspectivising in more detail. The objective is to relate the phenomenon of perspectivising to factors as age-difference, expert-knowledge and L1-L2 constellations. It will be shown that the three-step model of verbalizing propositional content can be applied to these differences as well. Moreover, the analysis will put forwards questions if and how the three-step model has to be adjusted if it is used for the linguistic action of perspectivising in general. Examples originate from a research project on biographical stories about the East German car the Trabi. The data were collected in biographical interviews with East and West German informants.

Bührig, K., & ten Thije, J. D. (2006). Beyond misunderstanding: linguistic analyses of intercultural communication. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

ten Thije, J. D. (2003). De talige markering van gemeenschappelijke voorkennis: Een analyse van biografische interviews over Trabant-ervaringen. In T. Koole & J. Nortier (Eds.), Artikelen van de vierde Sociolinguistische Conferentie (pp. 431-445). Delft: Eburon.

ten Thije, J. D. (2006). Notions of perspective and perspectivising in intercultural communication research. In K. Bührig & J. D. t. Thije (Eds.), Beyond misunderstanding: Linguistic analyses of intercultural communication (pp. 97-151). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Session: Paper session
Court / Intercultural Communication
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 08