Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 1, 1999

Volker Hinnenkamp

The Notion of Misunderstanding in Intercultural Communication


On the one hand, the notion of misunderstanding plays a very salient role with respect to the criteria of interculturality in intercultural communication research. On the other hand, however, it remains a notoriously underdefined and underspecified concept. In the first part of my paper I develop a typology of the different kinds of misunderstandings and demonstrate that each type of misunderstanding can be treated as a sequence in its own right, comprising a trajectory which encompass both, the misunderstanding core and the frame or event, that is its whole negotiated part. As a result of this, a fully negotiated (and hence clarified) misunderstanding will usually lead back to the status quo ante. In the second part I then discuss a case study of a full misunderstanding cycle within a multinational group discussion and deal with the difficulties in drawing up clear-cut criteria capable of differentiating between intercultural and 'non-intercultural' misunderstandings.

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