Intercultural communication

Authored by: Helen Spencer-Oatey , Hale Işık-Güler , Stefanie Stadler

The Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415551076
eBook ISBN: 9780203809068
Adobe ISBN: 9781136672927


 Download Chapter



The term ‘intercultural’ literally means ‘between cultures’, and so, at one level, ‘intercultural communication’ could refer to all communication between members of two (or more) different social/cultural groups. This, in fact, is how the term has traditionally been used. Difference in nationality or mother tongue has typically been taken as the criterion for membership of different social/cultural groups, and communication between people of different nationalities or different mother tongues has then automatically been classified as intercultural. However, there are several problems with this. If culture is associated with social groups, then nationality and mother tongue are not the only social groups we each belong to. We are all simultaneously members of numerous other groups, such as regional, professional and religious, and so, if communication between members of different social groups is classified as intercultural, virtually all communication would thereby be defined as intercultural. Such a broad definition is clearly unsatisfactory – not simply because it is too all-encompassing, but also because, as Hartog (2006: 185) points out, discourse is not necessarily intercultural just because people from two different cultures meet. In other words, cultural factors do not necessarily impact on the communication process at all times. Žegarac (2007: 41) distinguishes between intracultural and intercultural communication from a cognitive point of view, and identifies an intercultural situation as one in which ‘the cultural distance between the participants is significant enough to have an adverse effect on communicative success, unless it is appropriately accommodated by the participants’. In this chapter, we adopt Spencer-Oatey and Franklin's (2009: 3) slightly revised version of Žegarac's definition:

An intercultural situation is one in which the cultural distance between the participants is significant enough to have an effect on interaction/communication that is noticeable to at least one of the parties.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.