The dynamics of institutional discourse : an intercultural perspective.
The present study is an attempt to understand migrant workers'
language behaviour in the Native Speaker-Non-Native Speaker (NS-NNS)
contact situation. More specifically, it examines face-to-face encounters
between first generation Asian migrants and British bureaucrats in two
institutional settings - selection interviews and social service encounters.
The data source mainly consists of transcripts of video-recordings of actual
Structurally, as well as thematically, the thesis broadly falls into
three parts. Part I (chapters 1-4) provides a background to the study and
covers the sociocultural dimensions of the migrant situation; the linguistic
environment surrounding the migrant workers; a sociological perspective
on their interaction with British bureaucrats in institutional settings; and
finally, a brief account of the methodological choices made for data
acquisition and data treatment.
Part II (chapters 5-8) constitutes the core of the thesis and presents
an in-depth analysis of migrant workers' participation in institutional
discourse involving British bureaucrats. In pointing out that in the
institutional setting, language behaviour is necessarily context-specific,
this part goes further and seeks various ways of explaining mismatches in
the NS-NNS contact situation. It raises the fundamental question: are
these mismatches always caused by non-native speakers' culturally
determined discourse styles? The main focus here is on the problematic
character of various interpretative and explanatory frameworks with
particular reference to the NS-NNS contact situation. In this part of the
thesis, theoretical premises underlying the pragmatics of "communication
in context" - namely, activity types and prototypes - are reassessed in
order to account adequately for the dynamic nature of institutional
discourse. The two major arguments are as follows: firstly, all activity
types are not sealed categories and therefore the fuzzy edges which
differentiate one activity type from another need to be given attention in
our analytical frameworks; and secondly, because the same discourse
routines can occur within different activity types, there is a need to
highlight the differential functions that such discourse routines are seen
as serving in different activity types.
Part III (chapters 9-11) stresses the need to recognise the wider
societal context - NS-NNS discourse as asymmetrical communication and
NS-NNS discourse as intercultural communication - in order to examine
the relationship between participants' perceptions and the occurrence of
"misinterpretation". As a conclusion, chapter 12 suggests that, rather
than rely on radically distinct analytical frameworks for examining
"migrant speech" and thereby in fact reinforcing cultural and linguistic
stereotypes, NS-NNS discourse should be studied along the same lines as
other kinds of discourse.