Istvan Kecskes, Intercultural Pragmatics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. x + 277. ISBN 978-0-19-0989265-5.
Reviewed by Grigore-Dan Iordăchescu, 1 Decembrie 1918 University of Alba Iulia, Romania
The latest book by Istvan Kecskes represents the first monograph on the subject of intercultural pragmatics, which was initially introduced and researched by the author himself. In it, Kecskes lays the foundations of intercultural pragmatics as a subdiscipline in its own right, worth investigating, as it could offer deeper insights into the role of intersubjectivity in intercultural communication. It analyses the relationship between intercultural pragmatics and other subfields of pragmatics, underlying some aspects that have not been so thoroughly researched so far, such as intercultural communication and its relevance to basic concepts of pragmatics, i.e. cooperation, common ground, context sensitivity, salience, etc.
The book is structured into 10 chapters, the first two being devoted to the theoretical backbone of intercultural pragmatics and its relationship to various pragmatics subdisciplines, focusing on the interrelatedness between pragmatic competence, encyclopaedic knowledge and cultural models and how these shape the communicative behaviour of interlocutors, as well as formulaic language, salience, context, common ground and politeness vs impoliteness. It also features a chapter focusing on research methodology.
Chapter one, Current pragmatic theories deals with the two main currents in research on pragmatics, namely the linguistic-philosophical and the socio-cultural-interactional lines of thought, which were based on a component perspective (according to which pragmatics is one component of grammar, alongside phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax) and on a perspective view (as theorised by Verschueren 1999:7). Kecskes argues that the difference between the two approaches is that the linguistic-philosophical one regards intention as an a priori mental state of speakers that underlies communication, whereas the sociocultural interactional approach considers intention as a postfactum construct jointly arrived at through the dynamic emergence of meaning in conversation (p.26). When referring to communication seen as both an individual and social achievement that involves both prior and actual situational experiences (Kecskes, & Mey 2008; Kecskes 2010), the author states (p.41) that the explanatory movement in any pragmatic theory should be bi-directional: from the outside to the inside (from actual situational context to prior context encapsulated in utterances used) and from the inside to the outside (from prior context encapsulated in used utterances to actual situational context).
The second chapter, The socio-cognitive approach tackles the socio-cognitivist approach (SCA) adopted by intercultural pragmatics, in order to reunite cooperation and egocentrism, with a focus on both speaker and hearer, seen as social beings in search for meaning, with their own individuality included in the social-cultural collectivity.
Chapter three, Pragmatic competence further focuses on socio-cultural factors that are taken into consideration by intercultural pragmatics. In the author’s view, pragmatic competence represents a “dynamic and flexible phenomenon whose development and functioning depends on several different variables including, among others, age, individual motivation, quality and quantity of input, and socio-cultural environment” (p.80). Intercultural communication reveals the interplay of pragmalinguistic resources and sociopragmatic factors that are conducive to appropriate communicative behaviours (p.64).
The fourth chapter, titled Encyclopaedic knowledge, cultural models, and interculturality brings forth the issue of how cultural models shape intercultures, seen as ad-hoc creations (p.99), born in the course of interactions between individuals belonging to different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The author is concerned with the interplay of cultural models and situationally evolving traits in the co-construction of intercultures (p.104). It is to be noted that according to SCA (p.81), linguistic knowledge and encyclopaedic knowledge both represent two inseparable sides of the conceptual system, with a major role in how human beings construe meaning in communication.
Formulaic language use is analysed in the fifth chapter, with emphasis on the role it plays in intercultural communication. Although rather ignored by traditional pragmatics, formulaic expressions are considered as “essential parts of pragmatic competence, reflections of native-like behaviour and often express cultural values, social expectations, and speaker attitude” (p.105). Examples of formulaic language are collocations, fixed semantic units, frozen metaphors, phrasal verbs, speech formulas, idioms, and situation-bound utterances (Howarth 1998; Wray 1999, 2002, 2005; Kecskes 2000) and their appropriate use conditions creativity in communicative behaviour, as formulaic expressions develop psychological validity/salience, following “not only frequency and exposure to the language use but also immersion in the culture and the preference of the nonnative speaker in whether s/he wants to use them or not”.
The next three chapters are devoted to what Kecskes calls the “big three”, i.e. the determining factors in intercultural pragmatics that shape our understanding of intercultural communication: context, common ground and salience, involving both individual and societal traits of intercultural interaction. The sixth chapter, Context, focuses on context understood as consisting of both previous experience and how a particular setting in which communication occurs is perceived. The author expounds his Dynamic Model of Meaning (Kecskes 2008), which brings forth an understanding of context as consisting of both prior and present experience of the world (encoded private context and actual situational context), thus demonstrating that language is never context-free. “Meaning is the result of interplay between the speaker’s private context and the hearer’s private context in the actual situational context as understood by the interlocutors” (p.138).
The seventh chapter, Common ground further delves into the issue of the Dynamic Model of Meaning (DMM), pointing to the complexity of the interplay of various meanings in intercultural settings. The success of natural language interaction is largely assignable to the participants’ mutual understanding of the circumstances surrounding the communication. Common ground represents the mutual understanding of perceived context, also termed as common knowledge, mutual knowledge, shared knowledge, assumed familiarity, or presumed background information (p.152). The role of common ground is crucial in intercultural communication as it makes it possible for speakers to be economical in wording utterances (p.153). Kecskes further argues that “emergent common ground is the result of creating and co-constructing intercultures in intercultural communication” (p.153).
Chapter eight, Salience brings to the fore the meanings achieved in discourse. The author pinpoints the fact that the socio-cognitive approach, although starting from it, goes beyond the Graded Salience Hypothesis (GSH), as it focuses on both production and comprehension, and therefore, salience can be considered as culture-specific. Kecskes finally states that context, common ground, and salience do not work the same way as they do in intracultural communication, and this is the reason why they should be given proper attention by intercultural pragmatics (p.199).
The ninth chapter, Politeness and impoliteness deals with the way in which the previous three factors discussed above affect politeness and impoliteness. The author expounds the role played by intention, of shared cultural assumptions and norms and of context in intercultural politeness and impoliteness. Kecskes asserts that in the case of people belonging to the same social group and same context, different individual assessments converged to become a common assessment, which people will use as the norm. Therefore, the norm is derived from the interaction between the members of the group, and will exist in its own right, in as similar way to intercultures (p.210).
The last chapter, Methods of analysis summarises the most effective methods that can be used in order to get a deeper insight into the interactions between speakers, context, and language in intercultural communication. Kecskes favours the use of four main methods in intercultural pragmatics research: conversational analysis, corpus methods, discourse segment analysis, and computer-mediated communication.
In conclusion, this book represents an authoritative tool for researchers, teachers and students alike, who are interested in the study of intercultural pragmatics, which, as a discipline in its own can provide answers to some yet unclarified or ignored issues in linguistic pragmatics. As the author himself stated, it opens new vistas for research in order to address other topics, which the current book, for reasons of space, did not address: the role of presuppositions in intercultural communication, the effect of CMC on our perception of norms and conventions, the role of indexicals and discourse markers in intercultural interactions, as well as other relevant issues.
Howarth, P. (1998). Phraseology and second language proficiency. Applied Linguistics, 19(1), 24–44. DOI:
Kecskes, I. (2000). A cognitive-pragmatic approach to situation-bound utterances. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(6), 605–625. DOI:
Kecskes, I. (2007). Formulaic language in English Lingua Franca. In I. Kecskes, & L.R. Horn (Eds), Explorations in Pragmatics: Linguistic, Cognitive and Intercultural Aspects (pp.191-219). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Kecskes, I. (2008). Dueling contexts. A dynamic model of meaning. Journal of Pragmatics, 40(3), 385-406. DOI:
Kecskes, I. (2010). The paradox of communication: A socio-cognitive approach. Pragmatics and Society, 1(1), 50-73. DOI:
Kecskes, I., & Jacob, M. (Eds). (2008). Intention, common ground and the egocentric speaker-hearer. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Verschueren, J. (1999). Understanding pragmatics. London: Edward Arnold.
Wray, A. (1999). Formulaic language in learners and native speakers. Language Teaching 32(4), 213–231. DOI:
Wray, A. (2002). Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wray, A. (2005). Idiomaticity in an L2: Linguistic processing as a predictor of success. In B. Beaven (Ed.), IATEFL 2005: Cardiff Conference Selections (pp.53–60). Canterbury: IATEFL.
How to cite this review: Iordăchescu, G.-D. (2016). Istvan Kecskes, Intercultural Pragmatics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. x + 277. ISBN 978-0-19-0989265-5. Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education – JoLIE, 9(2), 203-206. DOI: https://doi.org/10.29302/jolie.2016.9.2.16
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