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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

Ed. by Piller, Ingrid

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Volume 36, Issue 1


Symbolic competence in multilingual interactions in a university setting: A complexity analysis

Michelle Gu
Published Online: 2015-10-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0070


This paper, drawing on the notion of symbolic competence and insights from complexity theory, investigates the multilingual practices of university students in group discussions. The data analysis reveals that the protagonists’ language uses index the various ways in which their rehearsal of potential identities, language ideologies, histories, and cultural memories are realized in the ongoing discourse. The findings indicate that language choice is not dictated by pre-existing and permanent value assigned to the languages, but is influenced by the interlocutors’ subjective perceptions of the shifting dynamics within interactions. Furthermore, the findings show that multilingual speakers show ‘semiotic awareness’ and the ability to manipulate, shape and reconstruct their environment on different timelines and space scales. It is also suggested that, as globalization has led to more and more multilingual communication, it would be desirable for teachers and educators to develop students’ symbolic competence to make them aware of both communicative and intercultural competences, and to enable them exploit social categories, the symbolic power relations of different languages and the legitimacy of languages to shape multilingual settings.

Keywords: symbolic competence; complexity theory; multilingual interaction


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-10-27

Published in Print: 2017-01-01

Funding: This study is supported by the General Research Fund of the Hong Kong Government (reference number 443213).

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 36, Issue 1, Pages 59–88, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0070.

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