Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 8, January 2005

María Palma Fahey

Speech acts as intercultural danger zones: A cross-cultural comparison of the speech act of apologising in Irish and Chilean soap operas


Intercultural communication presents many challenges and one of them refers to the need to create awareness about the importance of understanding speech acts cross-culturally. Speech acts are what the writer or speaker is doing in uttering a particular form of words, and their focus is on meaning (speaker's intention). The recognition of the meaning of a particular speech act in a given cultural setting is at the heart of successful intercultural communication. Speech acts are considered universal, nevertheless research shows that they can manifest differently across languages and cultures. This cross-cultural difference in language use is indicative of broader socio-cultural differences that underline language in use internationally and certainly it is at this level that much inter-cultural misunderstanding has its origin. This paper focuses on the speech act of apologising, and it draws on two linguistic datasets or corpora for its analysis: one comprising two hours from an Irish soap opera Fair City and the other comprising two hours of comparable data from Amores de Mercado, a Chilean soap opera. These data are transcribed to form an electronic corpus for qualitative and quantitative analysis. Extracts of data containing the speech act of apologising in both sets of data are compared and the socio-pragmatic implications for meaning and intercultural communication are discussed.

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