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Crosstalk and Communication Breakdown in Professional Interactions in English
Svetlana I. Harnish, Ph.D., Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D., &
Francisco Perlas Dumanig, M.A.
This paper emphasizes the kinds of problems or crosstalk which arise in professional communication among non-native English users. It is assumed that professional type of discourse differs from talk in the private domain. This is because in the professional domain there is common knowledge and experience about a specific profession and mutual comprehension among members of a profession is based on shared concepts and terms. The concept of crosstalk [Harnisch, 2008] is used here to refer to the types of obstacles and communication breakdown when English is used by non-native speakers of the language. Three types of crosstalk in professional interactions are discussed. These arise from (1) mispronunciation; (2) conceptual misinterpretations and (3) semiotic interference.
Keywords: professional discourse, crosstalk, communication breakdown
1. Background to the study
Since the end of the Second World War, English has become widely used all over the world. Today it is the most functional working world language and is used in a wide number of professional sectors. About between 600,000 and one million people use English as a link language for communication in business and professional negotiations all over the world. This dominance of English is due to its dominance in various fields such as politics, technology and science in English speaking countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Australia. Globalization and technological advancement has also resulted in greater demand for English. The expansion of English to various parts of the world has resulted in many varieties of English and this has in turn resulted in crosstalk.
Each variety creates its own standard. For example American English has the General American (GE) as the standard while British English considers the Received Pronunciation (RP) as the standard. Other varieties have also developed their own standard English like standard Singapore English (SSE), standard Philippine English (PE) etc. These many varieties of Englishes have their own distinct linguistic and pragmatic features. Since every English variety is distinct in lexical, structural, prosodic and pragmatic features, problems in miscommunication and misunderstanding occur. Non-native speakers of English display L1 influence in the L2 English that they use. Apart from L1 influence cultural norms also affect the forms of certain speech acts. Typologically, different languages impose certain types of interference. In short, such use of regional varieties of English can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation when people using different varieties of English communicate. Misuse of English by non-native English speakers can be considered as crosstalk.
Misunderstanding can occur because of LI interference which influences the speaker's pronunciation, syntax, grammar and even pragmatics. Crosstalk may also arise due to variations in accent, intonation, pause, volume and timbre. Typologically grounded peculiarities of accent and influence of native languages can produce misunderstanding among non-native speakers of English. Misunderstanding may also arise due to non-verbal codes in one culture being understood differently by another culture.
To overcome the barriers in communication among professionals for whom English is not the first language, communicative strategies are used (see David, 1992 on communicative strategies in courts and David and Govindasamy 2002 on communicative strategies and cross-cultural awareness for Business English). One effective communicative strategy is the use of code switching and shifting. Jacobson (1990) discusses overt models of shifts and discusses their reasons, aims and effects on comprehension of a communicative act (see also David 2003 for existence and reasons for code switching in law courts in Malaysia). Verbal discourse amongst professional can display two models of code switching: the overt - in the case of multilinguals as they shift from one language or dialect to another (see McLellan and David, 2007) and covert - as a result of interference of a native language into a second language.
Professional discourse tends to be less obscure than private talk due to (1) common professional concepts; (2) shared thesaurus; (3) general basic professional competence and (4) professional practical experience of communicants as members of the same profession. Mutual understanding among communicants is argued to be higher in the case of professional discourse than in private discourse within a common link of a one-language speaking community.
This study aims to determine the nature of the problems that arise in professional communication when English is used by professionals for whom English is a foreign or second language.
1.1 The concept of crosstalk
The concept of crosstalk (Harnisch, 2008) is here used to encompass different types of obstacles in communication in the English used by non-native speakers of the language. Crosstalk is used here as a metaphor to define obstacles in talk which lead to misunderstanding.
The hypotheses concerning possible linguistic, social, cognitive and communicative grounds of crosstalk resulting in variability of meanings and their interpretations that occur in professional talks can occur as a result of:
i. mispronunciation and/or spoken mistakes at phonetic/phonemic levels due to language interference;
The goal of the study is to analyze talk in a professional sphere when English is used by interlocutors for whom English is not a native language.
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Svetlana I. Harnisch, Ph.D.
Moscow Institute of Sociology
firstname.lastname@example.org Maya Khemlani David, Ph.D.
University of Malaya
50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
email@example.com Francisco Perlas Dumanig, M.A.
Department of English
No. 1 Menara Gading, UCSI Heights 56000
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia