Building Common Ground in Intercultural Encounters:a Study of Classroom Interaction in an Employment Preparation Programme for Canadian Immigrants.
The Open University.
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This thesis focuses on how a group of linguistically and culturally diverse individuals in an employment preparation class for immigrants to Canada use communicative strategies and resources to build common ground, that is, how they use language to form a socially cohesive group that foregrounds shared knowledge, shared relational identity, in-group membership and shared attitudes and feelings.
The thesis draws from a 12-week ethnographically informed study using participant observation with audio recording and semi-structured interviews as the main methods of data collection. It builds on the combined insights drawn from the well established discipline of interethnic communication and the relatively new but growing field of research on English as a lingua franca. While the former illuminates factors that make intercultural communication problematic, the latter sheds light on what makes it work despite cultural differences and linguistic limitations.
In analysing the data, which consists primarily of transcriptions from audio recordings of spoken classroom interactions, the thesis draws analytic inspiration from scholarship situated in discourse analysis, interactional sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. It borrows concepts from the Communities of Practice framework to understand how individuals from highly diverse backgrounds develop shared ways of talking/behaving and negotiate interactional norms.
The thesis contributes to academic knowledge in several ways. It challenges common assumptions about iscommunication in intercultural contexts. It shows miscommunication episodes as potentially productive sites for negotiating meaning and restructuring social relations. It argues that the notion of ‘national’ culture, which has fallen into disfavour amongst scholars, should not simply be dismissed because ananalysis of the data collected suggests that it can serve as a multifaceted interactional resource for speakers alongside other identity categories. An important contribution of this thesis to the field of intercultural communication lies in its careful attention to what participants actually do in interaction over an extended period of time rather than starting from any a priori assumptions.
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