29.07.04 - A résumé of this paper was given at the Pedagogical Forum organized by the Subject Centre for Languages (Southampton) at the IALIC conference at Lancaster University, 16.12.2003: see the short version here or here A resumé was also given at the CILT/LLAS Higher Education Conference, University of London, 30 June - 1 July 2004: see the actual presentation here.

Downloadable version of this paper for printing (and reformatting): click>

See the list of other papers downloadable from Patrick Boylan's site: click>

Seeing and saying things in English

Patrick Boylan

University of Rome III,   email:  


Table of Contents


Description of the module


Observed Benefits

Activities: Narrative Discourse

Activities: Interactive Co-constructed Discourse



Related Links


Abstract (Back)

A description is given of a module in English for Intercultural Communication currently offered at the University of Rome III (Italy). It teaches students how, in intercultural exchanges conducted in 'English', mutual understanding can be best achieved by relativising the concept of 'English' and by reconsidering the relationship between language and 'thought' (or, more precisely, 'being'). Students introject English-speaking cultural 'doubles' and then, as their doubles, carry out intercultural research tasks. This constructivist pedagogy is based on a radical redefinition of the concept of 'language', inspired by Husserl in philosophy, Piaget in developmental psychology, and Saussure and Halliday in linguistics.


Description of the Module (Back)

The phenomena of globalization and mass immigration recently prompted the University of Rome III (Italy) to create an undergraduate curriculum for 'Intercultural Communication Operators'. Students major in Arabic or Chinese and must also study English or some other European language as their co-major or minor. The module described below, 'Seeing and saying things in English', is one of two first-year modules (each 3 credits, 25 contact hours) designed to teach English for Intercultural Communication.

Students (a mix of EU Framework levels A2, B1 and B2) first view and discuss scenes from documentary or feature films portraying people in various English-speaking cultures, then choose a real-life or fictional character as their double and study her/his expressive habits both linguistically and as clues to a cultural mind set. In other words, they link their double's way of seeing things to her/his way of saying things. Copies of the film clips are available in the language lab for self study using an ethnolinguistic grid. Cultural indices are gleaned from macrolinguistic products in the second language found on the Internet -- songs, political speeches, jokes -- that the double has made or that somehow characterize him or her. Students then write a report in which they list the distinctive language features that their double shares with some L2 community. (Since this module is for students of English as a second language, 'L2' will, in this paper, be used generically to indicate the Anglo dialect or variety chosen for investigation -- for example, Jamaican patwa English). Students also characterize their double's communally-shared mind set by means of maxims, which they invent and introject in order to 'live' her or his culture. Finally, participating in one or more of the activities briefly described in this paper, they

-- narrate themselves as their double (a full description appears in Boylan 2003), or

-- interact with native L2 speakers as their double might, for example by:

- undergoing initiation into a local L2 community (a full description appears in Boylan 1983),

- playing their double in a simulated tandem conversation, videotaped for comments and coaching by a genuine L2 tandem partner (a full description is forthcoming),

- attempting to understand an expressive tic of their double -- one that is culturally-connoted -- by using variations of that tic with different L2 speakers and then comparing their reactions to the felt meanings (a full description appears in Boylan 1996).

Justification (

Pedagogical premises. Building on constructivism (Piaget 1968; Delia et al. 1982), the pedagogy elaborated above seeks to enable students to grasp language as a mode of being by experiencing it as such. In other words, students are lead to conceptualize the relationship between language and being (the basis of intercultural communication) through:

(1) a bottom up

(2) bricolage (adaptation) of mental categories, ever more differentiated,

(3) used to interpret experienced, real-life, communicative interaction

(4) perceived as gratifying.

Philosophical premises. Building on phenomenology and hermeneutics (Husserl, 1982 [1929]; Gadamer, 1975 [1960]), the above pedagogy recasts the traditional debate over 'language and thought' as, more accurately, a debate over 'language and mode of being'. Philosophically, 'being' refers to what underlies essence; psychologically it refers to the perception of irreducible identity -- for example, the perception of an intimate friend's identity-making fundamental stance in life (his 'bottom line': what he is, shorn of all poses), which we can grasp only if we, too, have shorn ourselves of our culturally-determined thoughts and impressions of him. This primacy of being reverses Descartes' cogito: thought becomes a by-product of being and the latter becomes the object of any authentic inquiry (see Husserl's fifth Cartesian Meditation). How is it possible to put aside our culturally-determined thoughts and impressions of an object in order to carry out such an inquiry?

-- Philosophically, through a process called 'bracketing' (or 'eidetic reduction').

-- Psychologically, through estrangement activities like those described further on.

Linguistic premises. The linguistic justification of the activities described in this paper requires another recasting -- that of the term 'language'. To facilitate comprehension, a parallel may be made with the redefinition of the term 'culture' proposed a half century ago by cultural anthropologists and now widely accepted: 'culture' is the collective mind set (the 'will to be') that produces a community's habits, ideologies and artefacts (tools, institutions, works of art...). Thus, habits, ideologies and artefacts do not constitute 'culture'; they are the products of a culture.

Similarly, it may be claimed (Boylan 2002, building on Saussure, 1969 [1916], Vygotsky, 1962 [1956]; Gadamer, 1975 [1960]: Piaget, 1968; Halliday 1975 and 1978) that the concept of 'language' -- and thus the concept of 'English' or 'Arabic' as 'languages' -- ought not to apply to verbal artefacts (e.g., phonemic realisations, [associated] semantic fields and grammatico-pragmatic constraints, texts, metatexts...), but rather to the 'will to mean' that produced these phenomena in particular speech communities. This 'will to mean' is more than the 'essence' of language; it is its very being. It is the culturally-connoted expressive intent that, irrupting in a communicative event, proclaims a historically constituted 'will to be' (culture). It is itself collectively constituted over time through the repeated attempts of the members of a community to manifest their wills within the constraints of memory, processibility and commonly shared resources. Resources can include any repertory of material artefacts and their associated significations, albeit with different overtones according to the repertory used: verbal artefacts (spoken words, written words, Braille words...), gestures, paralinguistic utterances, scientific notation, graphic emblems, facial expressions, ceremonial protocols, etc. Indeed, the concept of 'language' as something divorced from specific repertories of material artefacts and their associated significations is recognized in everyday talk by expressions like: "We may not use the same words or concepts, but we sure speak the same language".

This theorization of the phenomenon of 'language' explains the possibility of translation: what unites source and target utterances when all goes well is not a unity of 'thought' (for there are two thoughts, each the apprehension of a differently rendered expression with repertory-specific overtones) but rather a unity of communicative intent: each utterance expresses the same (originally unarticulated) 'will to mean'. Thus a successful translation renders, within the constraints of one culture's expressive resources, the 'will to be' of another culture. In the end, both texts speak the same language -- the pre-verbalized expressive intent of the author .

Of course one may also encounter, in a text to be translated, a certain 'will to be' that is common to both source and target cultures -- for instance, the wisdom expressed by a characteristic proverb. When this is the case, the translator simply renders it with the equivalent expression (or 'articulated will to mean') already in use in the target community. Take, for example, the Greek aphorism used to defer a decision: ' en nukti boule' ('In the night, advice', i.e. 'A night's sleep will clarify things'). The 'will to be' behind this aphorism, unhurried deliberativeness, is common to many cultures and has found expression in a variety of verbal constructions, some derived from the Greek original, some autonomously inspired by the universal experience of greater lucidity after a night's rest: (1.) adages, as in French and Italian -- La nuit porte conseil, La notte porta consiglio [Night will bring counsel]; (2.) idioms, as in Spanish -- Consultar con la almohada [Consult with your pillow], (3.) locutions, as in English and once again Italian -- Sleep on it, Dormirci su; and (4.) lexical items, as in regional German -- beschlafen ['to sleep together', originally denoting sexual activity: Berliners can defer making an immediate decision by saying they wish to beschlafen it first]. As is evident, the terminal formulations -- the final 'articulated wills to mean' -- are quite different from each other, both syntactically and, because of the different pragmatic and stylistic overtones, as 'thoughts'. Yet the essential 'communicative intent' remains the same in every formulation. This is because the formulations share an overall 'will to be' ('Let's not hurry!') and situation-specific 'will to mean' ('Let night/sleep intervene!'), initially undifferentiated and then progressively semanticised in ever more concrete but less essential detail. So while the formulations end up cognitively different, volitionally they remain the same. And language, we claim, is above all volition.

What happens when a 'will to be' is not commonly shared? As we stated initially, in this case the target text must literally teach its public a new way to see (and feel and want) things, by altering the way they customarily use their verbal repertory to say things. Good translators are thus ingenious bricoleurs. And insofar as they cross-pollinate the target community's language and culture with a new 'will to be' and 'to mean', they are bee-like bricoleurs.

Our theorization of the volitional nature of language -- which we have just illustrated through the example of translation -- makes it clear why we believe that topics such as 'lexis' and 'grammar' ought to be considered of secondary importance in linguistics and L2 studies. Or perhaps we should say: of no greater importance than such topics as 'gestures', 'silence', 'facial expression' or 'paralinguistic utterances', which are all language features conveying more discourse information than 'verbal aspect' or 'adverb position'. Instead of focusing on these verbal or non-verbal artefacts, then, linguistic studies should, we hold, focalise primarily on language as a 'will to mean'.

In other words, while our theorization accredits both non-verbal and verbal systems as 'repertories' equally worthy of study, it does not accredit them as 'language'. Language -- the object of inquiry of linguistics and L2 studies -- remains that which created these repertories and that which they serve in common. A second example may help to clarify this distinction.

To express themselves, the English Deaf use a repertory of corporal artefacts -- manual and body gestures together with facial expressions -- called British Sign Language or BSL (Sutton-Spence & Woll, 1999). This gestural repertory is not the simple transcodification of one of the verbal Englishes (RP English, 'Estuary' English, Geordie, children's talk...). Although it can express the semantic richness of any of the various verbal Englishes, it does so with different means and often with different mental constructs. A single gestural artefact can, in fact, replace several verbal parts of speech and the opposite holds true. Moreover, gestural artefacts semanticise relations that purely verbal artefacts often leave inexplicit, and vice versa (e.g., contiguity, some verb aspects and some emotional moods in the first case; systematic concord, some indefinite pronouns and a verb mood in the second). In addition, dialectal variation in BSL follows a different pattern from that of verbal English. Facts like these lead us to conclude that BSL -- although it lacks such hallmarks of English as nominal gerunds and the possessive case marker 's -- is nonetheless in one sense (which we shall rectify later) a full-blown 'language' and just as much a U.K. language as any of the verbal varieties of English mentioned above: for with every 'will to mean' expressed through gestures, it manifests a 'will to be' culturally identifiable as British. Similar observations can be made with respect to all signed languages of the deaf that have been described to date, and to the relationship they entertain with the verbal languages of the surrounding hearing communities -- for example, Italian Sign Language or LIS (Pizzuto & Volterra, 2002).

And yet, at the same time, BSL differs radically from what we usually consider 'English' or 'language' to be: it is spatial-visual instead of vocal-auditory. This radical difference does not mean that BSL is in any way inferior to verbal repertories such as RP. What it suggests, instead, is that neither BSL nor RP are truly what we mean by 'language'. 'English' -- or any language -- is, in reality, something more than a particular set of rules for inflecting and ordering spoken/written words and/or gestural artefacts.

'English' -- or any verbal or signed language -- is something more than 'deep syntactic structures' (or 'deep gestural-sequence structures') as well. For deep structures constrain but do not finalise discourse (nor can they explain the finalisation of surface transformations, semanticization, or dialectal variation). Language and languages are also something more than generalizable pragmatic norms ('politeness routines', 'repair routines'), sociolinguistic norms ('rules of address', 'rules of turn taking') or historical tendencies ('laws of change', 'natural preferences'). For -- as we have just said with respect to grammar -- these constraints explain what is regular in situated speech, not what is unique. And, except for students in traditional language classes, no one goes to the bother of speaking simply as an exercise in observing generalizable constraints. In other words, 'language' cannot be reduced to this or that rule system or even to a combination of systems; for 'language', whatever it is, is at least parole (actual utterances) and parole -- as finalised, situationally unique discourse -- is irreducible to rules. The study of language as a rule-governed system (langue), whatever that system's degree of 'delicacy' and anchorage to the situation (Halliday, 1978: 43, 140), can never quite explain the 'why this way and not that way' of particular, concrete instances of speech -- which is what the discipline of linguistics must be able to do in the final analysis or else it is sophistry (De Beaugrande, 1998).

Saussure recognized this dilemma when founding the linguistics of langue (what he called 'linguistics proper' -- 1966 [1916]:25). Parole is not just the product of grammatical constrictions, he asserts, but also of non-generalizable, situation-specific free will: 'both forces have combined in producing it, and they have combined in indeterminate proportions' (1966:125). And while the Swiss linguist never undertook to study parole -- for, since it is not generalizable, 'we cannot discover its unity' (1966:11) -- his students Bally and Sechehaye did, perhaps not unlike those children who, as adults, live out a parent's unfulfilled wishes.

In a word, then, no rule-bound verbal or gestural or graphical repertory is, strictly speaking, a 'language' -- just as no tonal system is music. Semiotic or musical systems, as such, specify means -- not ends -- and cannot therefore explain expression ('articulated will to mean') as the enactment of specific instances of concerted intent.

But what is language, then, apprehended as that which creates (and thus finalizes) concrete discourse in a particular speech community? Shorn of its semiotic repertories, the phenomenological being of English or Italian or any language manifests itself as a particular, historical, 'will to mean' which has, over time, fed and shaped the phenomena we (improperly) call verbal and non-verbal 'languages' -- just as we call a community's customs and artwork 'culture' when they are in fact the products of that community's culture.

That 'will to mean' is a continuum of collectively-shared volitional states, stretching from a preconscious humus -- an unarticulated sedimentation of parole associated with generic intent -- to an ever more articulated and situation-specific intentional state describable physiologically, psychologically and philosophically.

Physiologically, the 'will to mean' may be defined as a psycho-neuromuscular predisposition to manipulate co-constructed expressive repertories in culturally-connoted ways to manifest culturally-connoted intent. This predisposition is the product of successful participation in repeated meaning-making events that are shaped by (and shape) a given community's 'will to be' unpredictably and often contradictorily. This is why historical-natural languages, products of volition more than cognition, manifest unique properties more than universal ones and cannot be reduced to rules: see Wittgenstein's comparison of a language to an ancient city centre.

A predisposition, then, is much less than a rule or even a tendency: it is a potential to work out a pattern of interlocked choices which is initially unpredictable but which becomes ever more coherent and determined as it crystallizes into a final product. In a certain sense, then, formulating utterances is like playing a chess game in which one's 'will to mean' is a player pitted against a horde of conflicting exigencies: one's first moves (to return to our example of "Sleep on it": the choice to utter a request to defer decision-making, then the choice to allude to an interval of time, then the choice to allude to night/sleep) do not condition significantly the final outcome of the utterance (which can range from 'sleep on it' or 'sleep over it' to the stranger-sounding 'take advice from your bedcap' or 'night will bring counsel'); but with every move one's options decrease and one's 'will' manifests itself ever more clearly.

In the same way, to give another concrete example, the composition of a business letter in English may be described as the realisation of a predisposition to express oneself in ways that are not entirely rule-governed yet appear -- post factum, once the letter is completed -- coherent with a particular Anglo culture and with the practices of a particular business community. (The predisposition to compose culturally-authentic letters in English has in fact been modelled on a computer using a self-generating neural network instead of pre-determined procedural algorithms, in order to allow for indeterminacy -- Boylan et al., 1999).

From the standpoint of social psychology, language as a 'will to mean' can be defined as the activation of an expressive mode describable formally in terms of 'cultural dimensions' (Brislin 1990). For example, when comparisons are made of large-scale corpora of situated discourse produced, in different cultures, by socioculturally similar actors carrying out pragmatically similar tasks within the same or similar historical constraints, the 'will to mean' called British English invariably manifests itself as -Individualism, +HighContext, +InnerControl with respect to the 'will to mean' called American English (and +Individualism, -HighContext, +InnerControl with respect to the 'will to mean' called Italian -- Boylan, forthcoming).

Descriptors such as 'Individualism' and 'HighContext' are admittedly subjective and necessarily relative (they are + or - with respect to another culture); moreover they do not constitute 'distinctive traits' because British, American and Italian cultures have never been structurally defined as cultural systems in terms of these and other sociopsychological values. Thus, while it is easy to guess how the phone [a] or the 'subjunctive mood' or 'backchanneling' will be realized throughout a given homogeneous British English or American English corpus, the exact way in which 'Individualism' or 'HighContext' will be realised -- and what they will mean specifically, situation by situation -- cannot be predicted. This means that they cannot be taught as measurable parameters (only as generic descriptors) to students or trainees of intercultural communication. Unsurprisingly, much of current Language as culture research is centred on replacing 'cultural dimensions' with a more useful heuristic.

Finally, language as a 'will to mean' can be studied with the procedures of hermeneutics (Gadamer, 1975 [1960]), which we define as the interpretation of utterances seen as unique, not as part of a corpus. (Hermeneutics also includes the production of utterances, e.g. formulating the right questions, as part of the heuristic of dialogue.) Language manifests itself -- through any repertory of artefacts -- as an imprint on our psyche, a concave that summons us to interpret the convex that produced it. The very fact that the imprint is in us and therefore part of us (indeed, it contributes to defining us) means that it is amenable to understanding through situated, co-constructed dialogue and empathic introspection (Husserl, 1982 [1929]). Indeed, it is only through just such a qualitative research procedure that we can fully grasp parole as finalised, situated discourse elaborated one-off by a particular member of a unique culture (Boylan, 1996).

Thus, when we have truly understood any utterance -- assuming that we can genuinely claim to have understood it through empathy and critical dialogue, procedures which positivism criticizes as 'unscientific' -- we have grasped three things at once: (1.) the uniqueness of the communicative intent (i.e., of the 'will to mean') of the agent who shaped the communicative act, (2.) the uniqueness of the communicative act itself, enrobed in the peculiar language of the agent and her/his culture; (3.) the uniqueness of the form of understanding which we call language in general. In other words, we have managed to grasp language, both as a human faculty and as the expression of a collective will, by studying its uniqueness in an unrepeatable event and not by studying its general properties, as traditional linguistics does. This procedure is illustrated in language learning Activity 10 described below.

Unfortunately our tendency to reduce the rich phenomenology of 'language' and 'languages' to the (usually only verbal) repertories of a community leads us to teach second languages (L2s) primarily or even exclusively as the manipulation of words, rather than as the acquisition of a new cultural perspective. But -- we argue -- precisely because we are linguists, we ought to be teaching languages primarily as new ways to think, feel and want differently in order to mean things differently (i.e. as new 'wills to mean') and only secondarily as phonology, lexis, grammar, textuality, gaze, gestures, prossemics, calligraphy or page layout. "Secondarily" does not mean "left aside": students still need to crystallize a newly acquired 'will to mean' into a tangible form by manipulating concrete rule-governed artefacts (words, gestures). "Secondarily" does mean, however, that priorities are reversed. The learning activities described below illustrate this new procedure.

Observed Benefits (

Through the activities proposed, and others like them, students learn languages as a 'transformation of consciousness' (Tomic, 2001) obtained by putting aside momentarily their habitual culturally-determined thoughts and and feelings in order to acquire a new 'will to be' and, with it, a new 'will to mean'. This vision -- which we have called the basis of intercultural communication -- produces accomplished linguists who are, at the same time, competent intercultural mediators, in demand everywhere as negotiation coaches for international businesses or government agencies, web page localizers and dubbing supervisors, front-line intermediaries with immigrants or displaced populations, and so on. Moreover this vision, bridging the gap between language learning and cultural studies, makes 'Learning languages as culture' an independent discipline, no longer in need of hiding under the umbrella of literary or area studies. Finally, learning languages as culture enables students to set more wisely their language learning priorities: how much time to spend studying grammar, how much investigating cultural phenomena, how much carrying out 'consciousness transformation' activities, etc. This makes students better autonomous learners and better able to take advantage of 'year abroad' programs.

The constructivist pedagogy underlying the activities proposed in this paper also contributes, by its very nature, to preparing better linguists. By considering university 'lectures' not as a vehicle for the transmission of information about the properties of verbal repertories, but rather as a moment to stimulate, guide and evaluate students' holistic research into communication in the L2 as a behavioural phenomenon (the actual research is done in groups outside the classroom), students learn to grasp the learning process itself as a largely self-directed, autonomous 'acting upon the world'. They become ethnographically adept -- exactly what is needed of linguists today.

The absence of traditional lectures does not mean that students fail to learn 'the basics' of English dialectology or of Intercultural Communication theory, just as the absence of grammar/usage exercises does not mean that students fail to improve their rote knowledge of the variety of English they choose to learn. Such learning does take place but outside the lecture hall: in the library, in a 6-credit language practice class, and in the language lab, using self-correcting and peer-correcting materials. Occasional 'background knowledge' and 'performance' tests assure students of norm-referenced feedback on their self- and peer evaluations.

Activities: Narrative Discourse (

Initial Narrative Activity (valid for all levels: EU Framework A2 to B2)

1.) Creating Identikits of target culture speakers. As explained briefly in the paragraph 'Description', students first learn to research and then write out the cultural/psychological Identikit of an L2 speaker with whom they willingly identify (and that they then 'become' in their everyday classroom behaviour): usually film characters are chosen, but also singers, actors and political figures, provided the student finds enough audiovisual documentation to construct an Identikit.

For example, a student who likes the Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley can document himself on Marley's cultural and psychological make up using biographies, the Internet, films, fanzines, audio clips of interviews, etc. The web sites of university linguistics departments will furnish information about Marley's West Indies language: a creole? a variety/dialect of English? a language of its own? Whereas Whorf saw cultural meaning in linguistic traits, students derive it from macrocultural products -- e.g., songs, rituals, diaries... -- and assign it to linguistic traits considered simply as cultural emblems.

The students then create and internalize an appropriate list of maxims, thereby 'rewriting' themselves as their double. From then on, they speak and act consequently. This does not mean imitating their 'double' (something that, as a rule, is interculturally counter-productive). If the student choosing Marley has indeed gasped (though the maxims) his double's make up, then he will automatically begin to talk in a way that, while not necessarily being patwa or West Indies English, will be something that a Jamaican would instinctively relate to. That, in the perspective of this paper, is what defines intercultural communication linguistically: the creation of a language that one's interlocutors relate to, whatever be the repertory of artefacts used to realise it.

Finally, mixed-level groups are formed for class projects in which the more introverted students can experiment being their double in a protective atmosphere. Groups then meet in members' homes or in empty classrooms to narrate their new selves to each other; the group leader acts as the interviewer and tape records the session. Interviewers loosely follow the ethnographic grid used for laboratory work, beginning with biographical questions and then moving on to ascertaining their interviewees' value system (what they 'live for'). Groups consign the audio cassettes together with an evaluation sheet on which they have marked (graded) the narrations; the evaluation criteria used, elaborated as a group before the recording sessions and based on course syllabus texts, is also specified.

The Interview activity enables even beginner students (EU level A2) to participate fully and allows them to establish a working relationship with the intermediate students in their groups. This then enables them to participate in the following activities -- designed for pre-intermediate or intermediate students -- as more than just tag-alongs. Normally Activities 2 and 6 (or 10) are chosen or, if there is a heavy presence of beginner students in the class, just the second part of Activity 2 and Activity 7. If there are no beginner students Activities 3, 4, 5, 8 or 9 are conducted. Modules normally consist of two or three activities in all.

Intermediate Narrative Activity (levels B1 or B2, but accessible to A2 students participating in mixed-level groups)

2.) Creating Commedia dell'arte characters for the target culture. Students are asked to research the following question: if the commedia dell'arte were a present-day British institution, what would a few stock characters (maschere) be? Students must then, as groups, write out and enact a scene in English as their maschere, one that -- if successful -- should make the U.K. Erasmus students invited for the occasion laugh (or wince) with self recognition.

The students are subsequently told to return home and be their maschera there for a day: they are to imagine they are from the U.K. on an exchange program (so their Italian is perfect) and are boarding with the family who treats them as a lost child (one who ran off to England long ago); to humour the family, they respond to the child's name. Finally, while still being their maschera, they are to narrate their day in a report emphasising what they noticed as peculiar about the Italian family's talk and behaviour, about the family's expectations as to their behaviour, etc.

This 'estrangement activity' is often met with scepticism by teacher colleagues: "Isn't it asking too much of the more reserved students?", they wonder. The answer is that, as with every activity (including the first, which is also based on voluntary estrangement from one's native habits), students do no more than they feel comfortable doing. In one case a student limited herself to doing Activity 2 as a mental experiment (while lying down on her bed and listening to the family in the adjoining room, she imagined what would happen if...). In other cases students, while being their double, limit their interaction to younger siblings. But, as surprising as it may seem, the overwhelming majority carry out the activity to the hilt -- usually with initial misgivings, but then, once they begin, with increasing enthusiasm.

The inventor of this technique is the American ethnomethodologist Garfinkel (1967), famous for having his students act as boarders at their own homes in order to unmask the power structure and reality cues governing talk and behaviour there; the activity proposed here aims instead at revealing, contrastively, the hidden cultural assumptions. Students often report that the day at home spent as Brits taught them more about the British way of seeing and saying things -- filtered through Italian! -- than a month spent as an Erasmus student in the U.K. Erasmus students, in fact, tend to form outgroups. Moreover, the experience leads them -- and their often (momentarily) distraught families -- to reflect on the norms of their own culture.

Advanced Narrative Activity (EU Framework level B2 or C1)

3.) Creating cultural adaptations of personal scenarios. Students first write out a deeply-felt personal experience, one that is also culturally dense, using their native language (Italian, in the present case). Then, instead of translating their narrative, the students make a cultural adaptation: they rewrite it in English, transposing it into an L2 linguistic/cultural setting of their choice, and act it out before an Anglo public to test reactions. First, however, they must undergo a divesting process with respect to their own culture and psychology, in order to ascertain honestly what reactions they are trying to elicit and why. Then they must consider how the target public's culture can make such reactions difficult to reproduce and how to circumvent this by investing their characters with suitable local identities. A full description and example of this activity may be found in Boylan (2003).

Two other intermediate/advanced narrative activities that call for 'rewriting oneself' are:

4.) Composing pastiches. This is a once traditional French lycée exercise in which a student 'becomes' (i.e., assumes the mind set of) various famous authors and then attempts to write in their style.

5.) Translating by double immersion. This is a communicative translation exercise in which students: (a.) identify with a typical member of the 'ratifying public' of the source text; (b.) respond to the text as that person; (c.) identify with a typical member of the target-text public; (d.) imagine, as that person, the closest equivalent response and the necessary conditions to produce it; (e.) translate the original text, altering it as necessary in order to reproduce those conditions. (This is also the procedure adopted in Activity 3. Here, however, the student is not the original author and so must evoke and identify with the ratifying public, i.e., the public that, attributing a certain sense and value to the text, made it something to translate.)


Activities: Interactive Co-constructed Discourse (Back)

Other intermediate or advanced activities involving divesting and investing cultural identities -- but based on interactive co-constructed exchanges instead of narration -- are:

6.) Undergoing initiation within an L2 community (if one exists in the students' home town). In Rome, for example, there are British, American, and Irish communities with their own schools, churches, libraries, pubs, etc.; this holds to some extent for French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic speakers as well. 'Undergoing initiation' means making friends within the community and being taught 'what counts in life' by assuming an ethnographic naïveté. Students analyse the cultural identity that they invest. This activity is described in Boylan (1983) and a more research-oriented variant in Boylan (1996).

7.) Presenting oneself under different identities to subscribers of an L2 Internet Dating Service. Experimentation will show the students which assumed persona attracts the most responses and therefore how one ought to speak and 'be' in that culture. This is something many students do anyway in their native language/culture, albeit intuitively. Here the activity becomes a way to learn and experiment with Intercultural Communication theory: students must spell out, in measurable terms, the cultural and personality traits they intend to foreground in their various assumed roles. This involves building a statistically treatable descriptive model (for example, using the IPIP-NEO Personality Inventory and Rokeach's Value Survey or the traditional 'cultural dimensions' proposed by Hofstede and Trompenaars). Their final report must be based on tables of empirically-obtained correlated values predicting success .

8.) Participating in a culture-specific SIG (Special Interest Group) on the Internet, e.g., a fan club for a local sport or a citizens' committee for a local issue. A print-out of the chat session or Mail Group threads will show if the student's contributions are accepted and answered (co-optation) or simply ignored (marginalization). This activity espouses the view that culture is always local. Using the technique of Case Studies, students learn to specify the intersecting currents -- ideological, economic, sociocultural, religious, political, historical, annalistic (the recorded gossip and faits divers) -- that constitute the mores and idiom of a specific community: their Durkheimian collective conscience. They then internalize it using Stanislavski's techniques for creating a character from a fait divers (State of "I am", Through Action) before writing to the SIG as a 'local'.

9.) Playing the L2 speaker in a simulated tandem conversation with another member of the class; afterwards, the student selects excerpts from the videotaped conversation and has them criticized for realism and cultural authenticity by a genuine L2 tandem partner. The purpose of the criticism is threefold: it takes tandem interaction beyond the usual exchange of 'touristic cultural information' into the heart of what culture is; it furnishes the L2 learners with individual coaching for subsequent simulated tandems in class; it provides the L2 native speakers with a concrete occasion for defining their own culture in behavioural terms, thereby facilitating integration into the host culture (they see more clearly the distances to bridge).

10.) Attempting to understand a culturally-connoted expressive tic of an L2 double by trying out variations of that tic on a group of L2 speakers invited to participate in a discussion, then debriefing the guests to ascertain the effect produced. If it is possible to invite the same group of L2 speakers twice over a two month period (using, for example, ERASMUS students or guests from a local L2 community), then the double can be one of these selfsame L2 speakers, video recorded during the first discussion and then used as a model for speaking during the second encounter. By doing so the student researchers can: (1.) hypothesize the meaning of an expressive tic observed while studying their double in the videorecording; (2.) seek to understand the tic experientially by using variations of it with the same (presumed) intents during the second encounter; (3.) confront their double, at the end of the second encounter, with their hypothesized and experienced meanings, (4.) discover not only the relativity of their own hypotheses concerning the 'real meaning' of the tic, but also the relativity of the folk explanations given by their double. In academic terms, this activity teaches students the ethnomethodological approach (Garfinkel, 1967) to analysing everyday communicative behaviour performed unawares. (Activity 6, on the other hand, is meant to teach them a specific ethnographical method -- participant observation and naïve questioning -- for elaborating 'thick, organic, theoretically-grounded descriptions' of ritualized behaviour and consciously-taught beliefs.) A full explanation of activity 10 appears in Boylan (1996).

Conclusion (Back)

By learning to see and say things as might a member of another linguistic/cultural community, students acquire Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC), i.e., the ability to speak the language of a cultural Other, making use of any repertory of artefacts mutually available: either party's native tongue, some variety of English as a lingua franca, a conventional language, mere gestures... whatever.   In doing so, students widen their awareness of the phenomena called 'language' and 'English' while, at the same time, acquiring a capacity to work successfully as intercultural mediators.

When students also learn to remove the fig leaves covering the social implications of certain communicative practices, both in the target culture and in their own (see, for example, Activities 2 and 3), they acquire something more: Critical Intercultural Communicative Competence. CICC enables them to interact more responsibly in the L2 (Tomic, 2001). In addition, it enables them to assimilate L2 phonology and grammar much more quickly (Dörnyei & Csizér, 2002). Indeed, saying things 'in the L2 manner' becomes less irritatingly arbitrary when students discover that their L1 manners are equally arbitrary and that the L2 mask they learn to don, in place of their own, actually empowers them to see things anew. For any culture's myths reveal as much as they hide, so long as they are seen as myths.


Bibliography (Back)

Boylan, P. (1983). L'apporto dell'antropologia linguistica all'insegnamento delle lingue straniere. In: Gruppo di Lecce (Eds), Lingua e Antropologia [Proceedings of the XIV Congress of the Società di Linguistica Italiana,1980], 497-509. Roma: Bulzoni; available on the Internet (see Related Links below).

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------------- (2002). Language as representation, as agency, as being. In S. Cormeraie, D. Killick and M. Parry (eds), Revolutions in Consciousness: Local Identities, Global Concerns in Languages and Intercultural Communication, 165-174. Leeds: LMU Centre for Language Study.

------------- (2003). Rewriting Oneself. Paper presented at the 4th IALIC conference, The Intercultural Narrative, Lancaster University, 15.12.2003; available on the Internet (see Related Links below).

------------- (forthcoming). La comunicazione interculturale. Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane.

Boylan, P., Vergaro, C., Micarelli, A. and Sciarrone F. (1999). Metacognition in Epistolary Rhetoric. In S. Lajoie and M. Vivet (eds.), Artificial Intelligence in Education, 305-312, Amsterdam: IOS Press.

Brislin, R. W. (1990) Applied Cross-Cultural Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage`

De Beaugrande, Robert (1998). Language and society: The real and the ideal in linguistics, sociolinguistics, and corpus linguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3 (1), 128-139.

Delia, J., O'Keefe, B., and O'Keefe, D. (1982). The constructivist approach to communication. In F. Dance (ed.), Human Communication Theory, 147-191. New York: Harper & Row.

Dörnyei, Z. and Csizér, K. (2002). Some dynamics of language attitudes and motivation: results of a longitudinal nationwide survey. Applied Linguistics 23 (4), 421-462.

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Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

M.A.K. Halliday (1975). Learning how to mean: explorations in the development of language. London: Edward Arnold.

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Husserl E. (1982 [1929]). Cartesian Meditations, (Trans. D. Cairns). Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publisher.

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Saussure, Ferdinand de (1969 [1916]). Course in general linguistics (Transl. W. Baskin). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sutton-Spence, R, & Woll, B. (1999). The Linguistics of British Sign Language: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tomic. A. (2001) Languages and intercultural communication as a 'new' discipline. In D. Killick, M. Parry & A. Phipps (eds), Poetics and Praxis of Languages and Intercultural Communication, vol. I, 1-16. Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications.

Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and Language. (trans. E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar) Chicago: MIT Press [Izbrannyie psichologiceskij isslédovanija, Moscow, 1956].


Related Links (Back)

http://www.boylan.it Click on the word TEACHING to see current and past modules at the University of Rome III. Click on on the word RESEARCH to see publications, among which (click on the following dates for direct access) Boylan (1983), (1996), (1999), (2002) and (2003).