Reconsideration of intelligibility

A second change features Jiajia's reconsideration of intelligibility. Whilst previously Jiajia had seen non-conformity to native English as the threat to intelligibility (see extract 1), she came to realise that intelligibility was not bound to conformity to a pre-determined code but depended on interactive practices between interlocutors (see extract 3).

Extract 3

  • (1) Ding: I have some work experience [...] as far as I observe, I just feel Easterners and Westerners use different organs to produce sounds, so I just feel our biological differences must lead to our differences in pronunciation. In my opinion, errors that don't affect communication, communication between interlocutors are acceptable. I had a French customer, his English is like, er, although Chinese speakers' English is far from standard, his pronunciation, their pronunciation is even scary. I think his English is all right because communication is not affected, I mean we could get the business contract signed [...] communication comes first, language is a tool, it is acceptable when communication is not hindered.
  • (2) Jiajia: I agree with you. I mean, two interlocutors, just like you and your French customer, you both can compromise, you could understand what he meant. But if I am working as an English teacher, if I am teaching students, I can't let it go if the students produce the same sound for slow and snow, I can't accept that teachers don't teach nasal sound, I would correct them [i.e., errors]. But if you're using English in real life situations, it is all right as long as agreement can be reached between two interlocutors.

As seen in this extract, discussion of intercultural encounters seemed to make a difference in language attitude. Ding drew on his observation and experience to explain his linguistic tolerance. By contrast, Jiajia did not mention any linguistic experience to endorse her argument for uniformity to native English prior to Ding's persuasion. Comparing Jiajia and Ding, it is inferable that the lack of experience of ELF communication creates a myth of intelligibility, whereas linguistic experience helps to resolve the myth.

This extract also highlights the impact of peer interaction on Jiajia. On the one hand, Ding started his turn and projected himself as a knower and an experienced user of English, by announcing his observation and experience and suggesting a critical analysis of 'errors'. On the other hand, Jiajia drew on Ding's life experience, treating him as a source of information about intelligibility in relation to forms. Informed by Ding's experience, Jiajia came to accept that the right to decide what forms to be used and to judge which forms were appropriate belonged to interlocutors in communicative settings rather than native speakers off-site.

It is interesting to see Jiajia's hesitation at this point. While Jiajia accepted Ding's view of 'errors' in real life experience, she narrowed down her interest in native English to classroom settings exclusively. She ascribed the communicative success between Ding and the French colleague to their 'compromise', a word suggesting the result as less desirable on both sides. After her explanation of the need to learn 'correct' forms of English, however, she returned to an endonormative perspective and ended her turn. The hesitation seemed to imply a struggle in re-evaluating the importance of native English in response to Ding's life example, which challenged her adherence to native English.

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