Misunderstanding in Social Life: Discourse Approaches to Problematic Talk, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Misunderstanding in Social Life

Discourse Approaches to Problematic Talk, 1st Edition

By Juliane House, Gabriele Kasper, Steven Ross


272 pages

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Misunderstanding is a pervasive phenomenon in social life, sometimes with serious consequences for people's life chances. Misunderstandings are especially hazardous in high-stakes events such as job interviews or in the legal system. In unequal power encounters, unsuccessful communication is regularly attributed to the less powerful participant, especially when those participants are members of an ethnic minority group. But even when communicative events are not prestructured by participants' differential positions in social hierarchies, misunderstandings occur at different levels of interactional and social engagement.

Misunderstanding in Social Life examines such problematic talk in ordinary conversation and different institutional settings, including socializing events and story tellings, education and assessment activities, and interviews in TV news broadcasts, employment agencies, legal settings, and language testing. The analyzed interactions are located in a variety of sociocultural environments and conducted in a range of languages, including English, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, such language varieties as Aboriginal Australian English and Maori New Zealand English, and nonnative varieties.

The original studies included in this volume adopt a variety of theoretical perspectives, including discourse-pragmatic approaches, conversation analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, social constructionism, tropological and narrative analysis. They represent multiple views of misunderstanding as a multilayered discourse event.


'This book is an important contribution to discourse analytic research in misunderstanding.'

Discourse & Society 16(1)

Table of Contents


Juliane House, Gabriele Kasper, & Steven Ross 2. MISUNDERSTANDING IN INTERCULTURAL UNIVERSITY ENCOUNTERS Juliane House, Hamburg University, Germany 3. PARASITIC FORMS OF MISUNDERSTANDING Volker Hinnenkamp, Augsburg University, Germany 4. REPETITION AS A SOURCE OF MISCOMMUNICATION IN ORAL PROFICIENCY INTERVIEWS Steven Ross, Kwansei Gakuin University, Sande-Kobe, Japan & Gabriele Kasper, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, USA 5. MISUNDERSTANDINGS IN POLITICAL INTERVIEWS Elda Weizman, Bar-Ilan University, Israel & Shoshana Blum-Kulka, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel 6. "I COULDN'T FOLLOW HER STORY…": GENDER AND ETHNIC DIFFERENCES IN NEW ZEALAND NARRATIVES Janet Holmes, Victoria University, New Zealand 7. IDENTITY, ROLE, AND VOICE IN CROSS-CULTURAL (MIS)COMMUNICATION Claire Kramsch, University of California at Berkeley, USA 8. MISUNDERSTANDING TEACHING AND LEARNING Joan Turner, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK & Masako Hiraga, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan 9. THE POLITICS OF MISUNDERSTANDING IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM: ABORIGINAL ENGLISH SPEAKERS IN QUEENSLAND Diana Eades, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, USA 10. DISTRUST: A DETERMINING FACTOR IN THE OUTCOMES OF GATEKEEPING ENCOUNTERS Julie Kerekes, Stanford University, USA

About the Authors

Juliane House is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Hamburg University.

Gabriele Kasper is Professor of Second Language Studies at the University of

Hawai'i, and Steven Ross is Professor at the School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University, Kobe/Sanda, Japan.

About the Series

Language In Social Life

Language in Social Life is a major new series which highlights the importance of language to an understanding of issues of social and professional concern. It will be of practical relevance to all those wanting to understand how the ways we communicate both influence and are influenced by the structures and forces of contemporary social institutions.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / Sociolinguistics
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Translating & Interpreting