Persuasive communication

Centre for Language Studies | Faculty of Arts | Radboud University Nijmegen

Successful Cross-Cultural Communication of Pragmatic Meaning

Reflection on a topic at AELCO 2016

Every week this site features a contribution of one of our researchers about communication in research and practice. This week: Hongling Xiao, about cross-cultural communication and pragmatics.

On 26-28 October 2016, the 10th Conference of the Spain Society of Cognitive Linguistics (AELCO 2016) was held in the University of Alcalá (Alcalá de Henares, Spain). Presentations from the researchers covered a wide range of topics in the study of discourse, culture and context. Invited speakers Barbara Dancygier (University of British Columbia), Dirk Geraeerts (University of Leuven), Enrique Bernardez (Complutense University of Madrid) and Mercedes Belinchon (Autonomous University of Madrid) gave plenary talks.


While preparing for this blog, the study by Annalisa Baicchi (University of Pavia) In search of cognitive operations in pragmatic inferencing jumped into my mind. Austin (1962)’s three-level value of a speech act are widely accepted: a locutionary act (what is said); an illocutionary act (what is implied) a perlocutionary act (what is its actual effect). Speakers producing the pragmatic meaning (indirect illocutions) in an utterance and hearers properly identifying the intended meaning (perlocutions actually realized) are realized through not only the lexical-grammatical resources provided by the linguistic system, but also the socio-cultural conventions shared in a given speech community and the cognitive operations language users employ in producing or interpreting a speech act.


Through my past years’ experience of living abroad, momentary ongezellige communication occurred occasionally due to my improper selection of expressions or lack in rhetorical concern of a certain expression, but it never caused failure in communication. Yet real miscommunication did happen when I once expressed my feelings to internationals, in a way I considered very sincere and even considerate. But I was totally unconscious of their perception until confronted with responses like “May I kindly remind you that, but I don’t mean to be rude, actually I understand what you mean, it’s rude you say that” and “why you keep asking me that?” Though the role culture plays in communication is an established concept among both the field of communication studies and the general society, it was only then that I clearly became aware that the socio-cultural norms we follow are different. Therefore, the illocutionary value of my utterances was not successfully interpreted, nor were the perlocutionary effects realized.

The communicative needs between speakers and hearers are only satisfied when the pragmatic meaning of an utterance are successfully identified and interpreted. Linguistic system, socio-cultural system and cognitive system go hand in hand in this task.



[1] Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. London: Oxford University Press, p. 1.

[2] Annalisa, B. (2016). In search of cognitive operations in pragmatic inferencing. Presentation at the 10th Conference of the Spain Society of Cognitive Linguistics (AELCO 2016), Alcalá de Henares, Spain.

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