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Pragmatics of intercultural communication

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This article explains why intercultural communication always should be studied in context and how even though misunderstanding is normally at stake in intercultural communication, one can argue that the promotion of mutual understanding actually is of mutual interest for all of humanity. Studying in context means paying attention to circumstances around the uses of signs as well as to the roles and moods of the users of signs. Promoting mutual understanding means avoiding a state of mind that implies the depreciation of the other. To be intercultural, a communication must not be infected by prejudices. Any real attempt at intercultural communication is a paradoxical procedure. It supposes that human beings who engage in it at one and the same time recognize the stranger as similar and as different. Also, it can lead to acceptance of the other and a better understanding of what communication is about as well as to rejection and obscurantism. In this paper, I argue that even though people always relate in various ways to common and different cultural backgrounds, they still have to relate to common issues that govern their ways, and that focusing on those common issues and studying the various communicative contexts and contents help promoting mutual understanding, as these activities highlight the implicit role of the value of respect in all interpersonal communication. Human beings cannot avoid evaluating situations, contexts, relations, peoples and cultures. How can we establish that mutual respect and open-mindedness are better than disdain and dogmatism? Well, precisely by affirming that human relations commonly build on the inevitability of communicating and contrasting values and norms. Meaning in interaction permanently transforms cultural elements and patterns into something new. Intercultural communication becomes more respectable when it acknowledges the variety of ways humans interact meaningfully and the plurality of their logic of (inter-)action. It is good and reasonable to value understanding because this variety and this pluralism always have kept the social alive and more than ever in our modern globalized world contribute to the creativity and interactivity of modern life. The interest of pragmatics in user attitudes, its focus on practical rather than on alethic modalities, can contribute to a more nuanced approach to intercultural communication, where the different elements of meaning in interaction can be studied in various bundles rather than in a single strand.
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Keywords: ethnocentrism; intercultural communication; meaning; mutual understanding; open-mindedness; paradox; pluralism; prejudice; relativism; respect

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 13, 2010

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