♦ reading report: “Cultures, Contexts and World Englishes” by Yamuna Kachru and Larry E. Smith, 2008, Part 2 (Chapter 1)

• In their Introduction Kachru and Smith explain that the purpose of their book is to see what can be learned about their subject — “cross-cultural communication through English” — by considering “research findings” in the areas of “linguistic structure” and “ sociolinguistics.” Chapter One is mainly devoted to briefly describing various concepts that are used in that sort of research. They begin by distinguishing between the three types of information that people pass back and forth when they are communicating with language.

• First there is “conceptual information.” This is the “purely factual content of linguistic signals.” To explain what they mean by this, Kachru and Smith emphasize that, to convey factual information, sentences do not have to be true; a fairy tale for example, contains a lot of this type of information even though it is not true.

• Second there the “indexical information” about a speaker or writer’s “identity, attributes, attitudes and moods” that is conveyed by what is said or written even though it is “conceptually” about a completely different subject. For example, if Jane says “I think Harry made a big mistake,” the words “I think” provide information not about the facts she wants to convey but about her own degree of confidence in the facts she is stating.

• Finally, there is the “interaction management information” provided by the words and phrases that enable speakers to guide the course of a conversation by, for example, indicating that it is another person’s turn to talk.

• After describing the three types of information exchange, Kachru and Smith take a look at several “relevant concepts” which, they say, are useful tools in coming to understand how we communicate by exchanging the three types of information.

• The first of these concepts is the idea of a “speech act.” When we speak we are not only making meaningful sounds, we are doing other things as well: making statements, requests, or promises, issuing orders, declaring commitments, making official judgments etc. Some of these speech acts are implicit, as when we make a statement or ask a question in a normal way; some are explicit as when, for example, we “announce” a promise by saying “I promise to try harder in the future.”

• Kachru and Smith also mention a further subcategory: “indirect speech acts.” These occur when, for example, a question is used not, as normally, to perform the speech act of asking for information but, instead, to issue an order. (Note the difference in meaning between the real question “Would you like to go to a restaurant?” and “Would you please stop talking?” which looks like a polite question but is really an order.)

• After explaining what speech acts are, Kachru and Smith go on to give an example of how awarness of this concept can be useful in resolving and avoiding confusion in cross-cultural communication in English: they discuss a conversation between a native speaker and a non-native speaker in which the non-native speaker misunderstands the native speaker’s “How ya doin’?” because she takes it to be a question about what sort of activity she’s engaged in rather then a greeting. In other words, she mistakes one speech act for another.

- this is the end first part of the summary of Chapter 1