This thesis discusses the most frequent cases of misunderstanding in verbal
communication between speakers of Arabic and English. It draws on Sperber and
Wilson's (1986a) Relevance Theory as a general pragmatic framework in order to
account for the success or failure of cross-cultural communication. Relevance
Theory is discussed in some detail, but is not followed slavishly; rather it is at times
criticized for its inadequacy in cross-cultural contexts (Chapters 1, 4 & 8). The
inadequacy of the code model in verbal communication between Arabs and Britons is
studied in detail (Chapters 2, 3, 5). Cultural mismatch between the two language
communities under study is evaluated to account for cross-cultural pragmatic failure
(Chapters 6 & 7).
The fmdings in this thesis show that linguistic well-formedness is important in
cross-cultural communication, but cultural codes and socio-cognitive principles
impede the addressee's understanding of the speaker's intent far more. Details of the
linguistic factors playing an important role in causing misunderstanding in crosscultural
communication reveal that lexical-semantic errors are the most frequent in
the English of Arab speakers. However, in terms of the degree of deviation,
semantico-grammatical deviations are far more significant. An important fact has
been very striking in my findings: the influence of mother tongue transfer on the
hearer's perception of the foreign communicator's intent; however, the deviations
from well-formedness reflect different degrees of misunderstanding. On the cultural
level, an important finding is that not all misunderstandings are overt (Chapter 8).
The manipulation of context and expectation play a key role in minimizing the degree
and frequency of communicative breakdown. The degree of communicative
breakdown caused by cultural mismatch is much higher than that of linguistic errors.
Cultural discrepancy also provides great potential for misunderstanding in extended
contexts of cross-cultural communication (Chapters 8 & 9).
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University. If you are the author of this thesis and would like to make it openly available in the Institutional Repository please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org