Publication details [#14924]

Senkbeil, Karsten. 2020. Idioms in intercultural communication: A cognitive and pragmatic perspective. International Journal of Language and Culture 7 (1) : 38–62. 25 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Amsterdam: John Benjamins


This paper combines central ideas from Intercultural Pragmatics and Cultural Linguistics to rethink an issue that has been amply discussed in various branches of linguistics: idioms, ‘phrasemes,’ and other forms of fixed-form figurative language, when used in intercultural communication (ICC). It argues that an interaction-oriented approach needs to think beyond the description and mapping of idioms in different languages and cultures, and apply both pragmatic and cognitive linguistic approaches to explain if and how idiomatic language works (or does not work) in ICC. Methodologically, this paper relies on a combination of empirical approaches. A data-inductive analysis of authentic intercultural discourse involving native speakers of German, Afrikaans, and Zulu, who use English as a lingua franca in a project management setting provides interesting real-life examples of the pragmatic aspects of idiomatic language in authentic ICC. The results of this pragmalinguistic analysis have inspired and are accompanied by a deductive-experimental study, using questionnaires for speakers of various native languages (Arabic, German, Russian, Spanish, Turkish), testing the cross-linguistic communicability of English idioms in a ‘laboratory setting.’ These experiments show that an appreciation of both the embodied and empractic-interactional dimensions of idioms promises insights into how figurative language and fixed-form expressions are used successfully or unsuccessfully in ICC and why.