A Review of Andrea Tylers The Coconstruction of Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

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Carnegie Mellon University
Type of paper: 
Literature review
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Communication between native and non-native speakers of any set of languages has always been inconsistent regarding various aspects including status differences. The modern dynamics and trends of migration have resulted in an inevitable need for communication between the immigrants and the natives. According to some studies that have been conducted, the interaction between the native and the non-native shows varied characteristics with regards to the interruption patterns, backchannels, fillers, and the relative amounts of talk in the discourses involving two sets of speakers.

In The Coconstruction of Cross-Cultural Miscommunication: Conflicts in Perception, Negotiation, and Enactment of Participant Role and Status, Andrea Tyler examines various components and causes of mismatch in communication between a native Korean language speaker and the native U.S English language speaker. Analysed include the interpretations done by the Korean language speaker viewed in the American context. The Korean language is characterized by politeness modesty which when considered in the context of American English language, can result in conflicts as the principle does not apply to the latter. Taylor (1995) observes some characteristics like the discourse management strategies, data, schema as well as the contextualization cues to judge interpretation mismatches between Korean language speaker and American English language speakers.

Under the section Research on status and participant role in native speaker-nonnative speaker exchanges, Taylors comments on the finding: that the teacher is accorded higher institutional status and has the expertise in content and control in academic situations. Previous studies ignored the inclusion of negotiation when analyzing teacher-student discourses. In some cultures like in Korea, when the teacher is a native speaker, and the student is not, the latter cannot negotiate the status while the former plays a dominant role. In the US, the student and the teacher especially in the universities can negotiate the rules regarding classroom behaviors and the relative status of behavior patterns. This cultural difference can cause mismatches in discourses.

Data: Taylor used a videotape of a classroom session in which a Korean male tutor teachers a female native speaker of US English language. Despite the fact that the tutor has a good score in English communication skills, the student cannot understand some aspect and both approached the supervisors independently accusing each other of being non-cooperative. This is because the student posed questions three times before the tutor could respond, an act he found rude.

Analysis: The roles of both interlocutors in the learning activity (activity frame) are influenced by the cultures of each. As has been said, the male teacher was Korean, and the female student was an American student. The Korean culture views the teacher as the controller, the expert with the higher institutional status which cannot be challenged yet it was challenged. The discourse management strategies such as turn-taking, the rights of the speaker, manner of engagement and speaker strategies differ culturally. Formal schema dictates the linguistic codes and how they are integrated into the imparted knowledge as per the culture or linguistic interpretations. The use of modals by the Korean tutor and his pronunciation confused the student.

My thoughts on the reading include the fact that the conflicts between the native and the non-native speakers of any set of languages are caused by the cultural differences which govern how the roles and status of each set are perceived. The tensions that exist among interlocutors of two languages are so because of the implicit need to exercise each ones cultural expectations such as authority in the case of the Korean tutor. Worth noting is that the socio-cultural dynamics of migration and the foreigner tag contribute to how the minority groups are judged or perceived. Pre-existing attitudes sometimes have a role in this perception. But all in all, language remains a core component of culture.


Tyler, A. (1995). The Coconstruction of Cross-Cultural Miscommunication: Conflicts in Perception, Negotiation, and Enactment of Participant Role and Status. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 17(2), 129-152. doi:10.1017/S0272263100014133

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