Editor-in-Chief: Kecskes, Istvan
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Intercultural communication is perceived as being somewhat problematic, given the varied cultures that come into contact with one another. Misunderstanding and communication breakdown are said to mark many intercultural encounters as participants rely on the norms of their mother tongue and native culture to interpret meaning. This paper reports on the findings of a study conducted to identify and explain the sources and nature of misunderstanding in intercultural communication in English as a lingua franca. Fine-grained analyses of 15 hours of naturally occurring spoken interactions in ELF reveal that none of the misunderstandings occurring in this type of intercultural communication can be attributed to differences in the participants' cultural background. While a few misunderstandings are language-related, the source of many of the misunderstandings can be traced to ambiguity in the speaker's utterances. Other reasons for misunderstanding include mishearing and lack of world knowledge, namely, factors that also contribute to misunderstanding in intracultural communication. It is suggested that the diminished role of culture in such interactions stems from the lingua franca context of the interaction. Intent on arriving at mutual understanding in a language that is native to none of the participants, cultural differences are tolerated and often overlooked as the participants negotiate and co-construct understanding in the lingua franca.
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