Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 149-156
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojml) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojml.2013.32020
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 149
Discourse and Intercultural Academic Rhetoric
University of Jendouba, Jendouba, Tunisia
Email: fethi_helal@yaho o.fr
Received January 31st, 2013; revised March 1st, 2013; a c c epted March 12th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Fethi Helal. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, d i s tribution, and reproduction in any me di um, provide d the original
work is properly cited.
This paper is critically concerned with the recent attempts in contrastive rhetoric (CR) to interpret the
linguistic and rhetorical differences found in the academic discourses produced by Anglophone and non-
Anglophone academic and research writers. Framing this critique within a discourse view of language,
culture and communication, this paper points to the need to go beyond such a priori, static, and too often
vague concepts as language and culture as explanatory variables in intercultural (academic) rhetoric.
Moreover, using data that examined the use of English in lingua franca contexts, the paper urges re-
searchers in CR to consider the differences and misunderstandings arising from a history of socialization
of academics to different discourse communities, varying assumptions of what constitutes appropriate
academic genres, as well as the identities and meanings that are co-constructed in concrete and situated
rhetorical action. It is believed that such a perspective on intercultural academic communication will not
only help move the CR agenda forward, but will also lead to a better understanding of communicative and
intercultural competence, and dialogue with the cultural academic “other”.
Keywords: Contrastive Rhetoric; Discourse Analysis; Academic Writing/Genres; Intercultural
Communication; Situated Rhetorical Action
This paper is critically concerned with the recent attempts in
applied linguistic scholarship, particularly in the subfield
known as Contrastive Rhetoric (hereafter CR), to interpret the
linguistic and rhetorical differences found in the academic dis-
courses produced by Anglophone and non-Anglophone aca-
demics. The Anglophone grip on international communication
and information access seems to be quite in place, as has been
amply attested by many studies (Wood, 2001). As such, a large
number of academics and researchers from non-Anglophone
speaking backgrounds are urged to publish their best in English.
For many academics, however, this is no easy enterprise. In-
deed, ethnographic research has established that getting an
entry into the global academic and research markets entails
socialization and enculturation into another textual universe and
another public face (Duszak, 1997; Connor, Halleck, & Mbaye,
2002). It is becoming increasingly clear that this textual uni-
verse is heavily populated by an English, typically Anglo-
merican, mode of rhetorical exposition. Non-Anglophones are
expected to conform to this mode if they are to make it into the
According to Swales (1996: p. 25), CR has emerged “out of
those cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspectives, as one of
the best ways we have of understanding why texts are as they
are. In effect, we are once again trying to understand the distant
other in order to better understand ourselves” (original empha-
sis). Therefore, CR is relevant to the increasing interest that is
being given to the themes of “communicative and intercultural
competence” (Kramsch, 2005: p. 545) and cross-cultural dia-
logues (Savignon & Sysoyev, 2002; Ware & Kramsch, 2005) as
it attempts not only to describe the cultural meanings emanating
from the texts produced by writers from different linguistic and
cultural backgrounds, but it also purports to explain the reasons
which may inhibit the acquisition of such competence and the
facilitation of those exchanges.
The current focus on explaining differences in CR can be
justified by a call initially pronounced by Scollon (1997; Mau-
ranen, 2001) and later expressed by Swales (2004) that the next
research agenda for CR research does not lie in proving that
there are differences in research rhetorics, but in articulating a
theoretical framework in order to explain the origins of such
differences. This paper can be seen as a contribution to such
First, this paper reviews the theoretical assumptions on
which the CR approach is based. Second, it addresses the theo-
retical and methodological criticisms which have been leveled
against this approach. The theoretical criticism comes from: a)
the recent attempts to rethink the linguistic relativity hypothesis
within more discourse perspectives (Gumperz & Levinson,
1996; Kramsch, 2004); b) current conceptualizations of culture
(Sarangi, 1994: Holliday, 1999; Scollon & Scollon, 2001; At-
kinson, 2004; Kramsch, 2004); c) the pluricentricity of English
in lingua franca contexts (e.g., Swales, 1996; Kachru, 1997;
Seidlhofer, 2001; Canagarajah, 2002), and d) the increasing
recognition of the intertextual, interdisursive and dialogical
nature of academic communication (Bakhtin, 1986; Bhatia,
1997; Scollon, 1997; Askehave & Swales, 2001). The meth-
odological criticism concerns the need voiced by many CR
researchers to establish appropriate tertia comparationis across
genres and cultures (Moreno, 1998; Swales, 2004; Connor &
Moreno, 2005). The last part of the paper introduces the theo-
retical framework and a case study in order to help illustrate
Contrastive Rhetoric: Origins and Theoretical
CR is a field of inquiry which investigates the way written
discourse is structured and used across languages and cultures
within such diverse settings as education, academia and the
professions (Kaplan, 1966; Taylor & Chen, 1991; Connor,
1996a; Enkvist, 1997). Originally proposed by Kaplan (1966)
as a pedagogical solution to the rhetorical and organizational
problems faced by non-native speaking students writing in
English, CR has become an established field of inquiry in ap-
plied linguistics and written discourse analysis (Flowerdew,
2001; Kaplan, 2001; Kaplan & Grabe, 2002). Numerous arti-
cles on the subject have appeared in such journals as Text,
Written Communication, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,
Journal of English for Specific Purposes, a special issue in
Multilingua (Connor, 1996b) and recently another special issue
in Journal of English for Academic Purposes (Connor, 2004a).
Book-length treatment of the subject includes Connor’s (1996a)
Contrastive rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of second Lan-
guage writing and the volume edited by Anna Duszak (1997)
entitled Culture and styles of academic discourse.
Partially derived from the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis of linguistic relativity, CR “assumes that languages
differ not only in phonological, morphological, and grammati-
cal features, but in the kinds of genres available to their speak-
ers for the organization of discourse and in the rhetorical (and
syntactic) features that co-occur with those genres” (Kaplan,
2001: p. viii). Thus, CR views language and writing as cultural
phenomena which are significantly shaped by the culture in
which the writer first learns how to write. Moreover, to the
extent that writing is cultural, different cultures have developed
different “situationally, generically, or stylistically composi-
tional forms” (Scollon, 1997: p. 353) to respond to different
contexts of writing, and that these forms vary from one lan-
guage to another and from one culture to another. Furthermore,
the stylistic compositional forms acquired in the writer’s native
language and culture often transfer to writing in the second or
foreign language. In CR, it is important to note that interference
is often manifested at the level of the writer’s choice of content
as well as his/her arrangement of that content to form particular
genres of text.
In an influential essay entitled “Cultural thought patterns in
intercultural education” published in the Language Learning
Journal, Kaplan (1966) claimed that speakers of different lan-
guages write according to different rhetorical logics, and that
these logics often transfer to writing in a second or foreign
It is apparent but not obvious that, at least to a very large
extent, the organization of a paragraph, written in any
language by any individual who is not a native speaker of
that language, will carry the dominant imprint of that in-
dividual’s culturally-coded orientation to the phenome-
nological world in which he lives and which is bound to
interpret largely through the avenues available to him in
his native language (Kaplan, 1972: p. 1).
Kaplan’s original study included a comparison of 600 para-
graphs in English written by students from five major language
families: English, Semitic, Oriental, Romance, and Russian. On
the basis of an analysis of these paragraphs, Kaplan was able to
identify five types of rhetorical tendencies within these groups.
He claimed that the expository paragraphs written by Anglo-
American students approached a topic in a “linear” and “direct”
fashion, whereas paragraphs written by students belonging to
the Semitic language group (e.g., Arabic and Hebrew) used a
complex series of parallel coordinate constructions. Paragraphs
by students with an Oriental language background (e.g., Japa-
nese, Korean, and Chinese) approached a topic indirectly, and
came to the main point at the end. Paragraphs written by the
Romance language group (e.g., French, Spanish) included ma-
terial which was only tangentially related to the main topic and
allowed for more “freedom to digress or to introduce extrane-
ous material” than in English (Kaplan, 1966: p. 12).
Following Kaplan’s pioneering study, wide-scale investiga-
tions comparing writing in several languages with English have
been carried out. These studies have generally corroborated Ka-
plan’s findings and presented the traditional CR assumptions as
universally valid (see, for example, Clyne, 1987 with respect to
German and English and Duszak, 1994 with reference to Polish
and English). Although these findings have instilled a healthy
doze of relativism into the field of foreign/second language
teaching and writing, they have led to various stereotypes and
prejudices. Kramsch (2004) elaborates on this idea in the fol-
It is easy to see why so many ESL (English as a second
language) teachers of writing extrapolated from the nature
of the students’ native language to the logic of their para-
graphs, and, from there to the innate logic of their minds
and the intrinsic nature of their characters. Even though
this was of course not what Kaplan had intended, many
believed that Americans were direct and straightforward,
Chinese devious and roundabout, and the French illogical
and untrustworthy, and that those qualities were the direct
result of the language they spoke (Kramsch, 2004: p.
Although Kaplan (1987) and his followers did later denounce
these extrapolations, he continued to link cultural differences to
the structure of language itself arguing that rhetorical and sty-
listic differences are culturally conditioned and vary widely
from one language to another, and that the stylistic and organ-
izational forms which have been acquired in the writer’s native
language and culture often transfer to the writing in a second or
Having introduced the assumptions on which the CR ap-
proach is based, I shall now move to address the major critical
stands which have been raised against this approach.
Contrastive Rhetoric and the Linguistic Relativity
CR has been criticized for adopting a strong form of linguis-
tic relativity which has been challenged by more recent studies
of language, thought and culture (Gumperz & Levinson, 1996;
Kramsch, 2004). According to Kramsch (2004: p. 254), many
CR studies still maintain Kaplan’s (1966, 1972) original posi-
tion that “the acquisition of a second language really requires
the simultaneous acquisition of a whole new universe and
whole new way of looking at it” (Kaplan, 1972: p. 100). For
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
example, following Whorf (1956), Kaplan (1972) claims that
cultural differences are inextricably linked to the structure of
the language itself: “rhetorical and stylistic preferences are cul-
turally conditioned and vary widely from language to language”
(p. 103). But as Kramsch (2004: p. 254) maintains, the prefer-
red styles and assumptions about genres of writing are trans-
mitted through, and influenced by, schooling and the educa-
tional systems of a particular culture. In turn, these styles and
assumptions are not static, but they are themselves permeable
and open to other cultural and subcultural influences (Daoud,
1991; Davis & Bistodeau, 1993; Moreno, 1998).
Although the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been challenged
especially in its strong form (i.e. language determines the mode
of thinking), the weak version of the hypothesis (i.e. language
influences thought) has been reexamined from a wider commu-
nication and discourse perspectives. For example, Stubbs (1997)
claimed that Whorf asked the right question, but he “ormulated
it wrongly” (p. 365). He suggested that rather than talking about
the influence of language on thought, it would be more reward-
ing to talk about the influence of the use of certain language
patterns on the receivers’ judgments.
Following Halliday (1978), Stubbs argued that different
communities have developed their own semiotic conventions in
order to express their preferred ways of representing reality. For
Stubbs, the focus of CR studies should be not on language
structure per se, but on “language use in discourse; not on
grammar, but on systematic selections from the grammar” (p.
365). He proposed that instead of focusing on the grammatical
potential of a particular language, discourse analysts should
investigate the “effects of systematic selections (by language
users) from this potential in actual language use in important
social contexts” (p. 364). Stubbs’s (1997) proposal is a useful
corrective for CR studies to focus on the social action that par-
ticular discourse forms serve in particular contexts and the ef-
fect which such forms may have on their respective audiences.
In their book Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, Gumperz and
Levinson (1996) maintained that meaning went beyond lexical
and grammatical patterning to comprise culture-specific activi-
ties and interpretive practices, and “these are located in the
social networks one is socialized in” (p. 11). For the issue of
linguistic relativity, the recognition of the culturally diverse
ways of assigning meaning to certain speech events in use has
meant a shift:
From an “inner circle” of links between grammar, catego-
ries, and culture as internalized by the individual, [to] an
“outer-circle” of communication and its relation, on the
one hand, to interaction in social settings and on the other
hand to individual patterns of cognition which are partly
contextually attuned, and even perhaps acquired primarily
through patterns of communication, in turn enabling it
(Gumperz & Levinson, 1996: p. 10).
For academic discourses, if the systematic selections of the
grammar made by discourse communities determine meaning
and interpretation made by disciplinary discourses, it follows
that CR studies should focus on the characteristics of those
communities, their preferred ways of writing and interpretation,
and the functions that these cultural groups assign to systematic
selections from the grammar.
Culture in CR: Conceptual Problems
It has become clear in recent years that CR seems to embrace
a linguistic and cultural determinism that considers second/
foreign writers as prisoners/hostages of their own language and
culture (Canagarajah, 2002). Many applied linguists have ques-
tioned such a view for seeming to give little or no space to hu-
man agency to transcend linguistic boundaries and cultural
biases. According to Canagarajah (2002), “essentialist” defini-
tions of culture—typical of CR studies—such as Connor’s
(1996a: p. 101, but see Connor, 2004b) who defined culture as
“a set of patterns and rules shared by a particular commu-
nity”—tend to ignore the hybrid and heterogeneous nature of
academic and educational cultures. For example, defining Ori-
ental writing in terms of being reader-based and Anglo-
American rhetoric as being writer-based (Hinds, 1987) ignores
the diversity of styles within the two cultures and the changes
undergone by them. In effect, it has been argued that “in this
age of globalization, when (different scholars) shuttle between
communities and enjoy multiple memberships, it is hard to pin
down any person or community as characterized by an immuta-
ble set of values” (Canagarajah, 2002: p. 35).
In an attempt to overcome essentialist and reified definitions
of culture, typical of CR studies, Atkinson (2004) argues that
the concept of culture in current CR studies is ill-defined and
confusing. Atkinson’s (2004) contribution to the field of CR is
theoretical and conceptual. He maintains that so far CR has
relied on an “underdeveloped,” “received,” “monolithic” and
“deterministic” view of culture in order to explain differences
in written texts. Building on mainstream thinking on cultural
and postmodern studies, Atkinson proposes a view of culture as
fluid, dynamic, and unpredictable. Following Adrian Holliday’s
(1999) discussion of big vs. small cultures, Atkinson decon-
structs the concept of culture into various subcultures to en-
compass “small cultures” (e.g. professional-academic culture,
classroom culture, student culture, etc.). These small cultures
would interact in highly complex ways with national, ethnic
and international cultures. The case remains to be made, how-
ever, of how these small cultures may interact, intermingle and
shape the finished written product in various genres. In other
words, the conundrum of untangling the nature of this interac-
tion in these written products remains to be solved.
“Inner-Circle” Varieties of English as a Point of
It has been found that what is named as “inner-circle” varie-
ties of English (British, American, Australian and Canadian
varieties) do not constitute a single rhetorical tradition (Y.
Kachru, 1995). Swales and Johns (reported in Swales, 1996)
observe from their long-standing co-editing experience of the
English for Specific Purposes Journal: An international journal
that the existence of a single rhetorical tradition in what is
called “the UK-US heartland” is highly questionable. Accord-
ing to them:
A British paper will begin with some interesting ideas, to
be followed by some vague methodology and rather
scrappy results. Its final section will just be a summary
since the big ideas are all up-front anyway. On the other
hand, a “typical American paper” will start off with an
exhaustive review of the literature, followed by im-
mensely painstaking methods and results sections. Only in
the discussion, with the author’s credibility now estab-
lished, will it come to full intellectual life. Textual dances
of rather different kinds are being performed here. The
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 151
British dance steps are quick-quick-quick-repeat; the Ame-
rican, slow-slow-slow-quick” (Swales, 1996: p. 26).
As Swales was quick to point out, although these were sim-
ply crude caricatures, the lesson to b e der ive d is tha t CR stu die s
should avoid considering the Anglo-American rhetoric as “a
point of departure” or constituting one single rhetorical tradi-
tion (p. 27, original emphasis).
Generic Intertextuality and Interdiscursivity
Moreover, and drawing on the concept of “intertextuality,”
particularly as conceptualized by Bakhtin (1981, 1986), Swales
(2001) has argued that one genre does not constitute a culture,
but rather a complex system of genre sets. He maintain that “the
idea of independent genres, such as the free-standing research
article (RA), is an over-simplification, perhaps a necessary one
in the early stages of analysis, but difficult to sustain in the
longer term” (Swales, 2001: p. 49). Although empirical at-
tempts demonstrating the operation of other genre sets in indi-
vidual genres are lagging far behind theoretical formulations,
CR studies has yet to grapple with the problem of intertextual-
ity and interdiscu rs ivity across genres.
Drawing on a rhetorical and linguistic analysis of introduc-
tions to academic books, Bhatia (1997) concluded that in the
present-day competitive research environment, genres can no
longer be seen to “maintain static values” (p. 181). Although
the standard rhetorical moves in these introductions figured
prominently (i.e. establishing the field and establishing a niche
in that field), Bhatia found that the promotional input was far
more pervasive and dominant than has hitherto been attested.
This promotional intent has resulted in an extensive use of ad-
jectives and adverbs. These strategies have brought these aca-
demic introductions closer to the genre of advertising:
As I see it, there is a clear indication of the fact that pub-
lishers use a socially recognized communicative purpose
(i.e. introducing the academic work) and genres which are
considered appropriate for the fulfillment of this purpose,
to communicate private intentions (i.e. to promote the
book), which conventionally were not considered part of
the book introduction. This phenomenon of mixing “pri-
vate intentions” with “socially recognized communicative
purposes” is not a characteristic of academic introductions
alone; it is widely used in other professional genres too,
resulting in a mixing of genres (Bhatia, 1997: p. 187).
If this is the case; that is, if genre mixing has become the
hallmark of contemporary academic research writing, then CR
studies might find it useful, at least for analytical and peda-
gogical purposes, to account for how different disciplinary and
national cultures use certain linguistic and rhetorical features
associated with prior generic forms to modify or enhance the
genre under construction.
There also remains the problem of oral influences on literate
traditions in some cultures. Scollon (1997) addressed this prob-
lem when he criticized CR for its unjustified focus on literate
written genres and its neglect of “oral-to-literate influences:”
Within the traditional contrastive rhetorical paradigm, as
evidenced by many papers […] there seems to me to re-
main an excess of focus on textual comparisons on the
one hand, and on world literature cultures, on the other. In
this highly intertextualized, interdiscursive world in which
most of us work, I would argue that oral-to-literate influ-
ences are as likely to be the major lines of influence as are
cross-linguistic but same genre-influences (Scollon, 1997:
Scollon gave as an example his own study of Hong Kong
Chinese students’ English writing where he found that the ma-
jor sources influencing this writing were the popular culture
media of music, videos, film and fashion. Although Scollon’s
study was concerned with the writing of students, rather than
expert writers, it is highly recommended that CR analysts
should move beyond what Adrian Holliday (1996: p. 234)
called “the narrow emicism of verbatim data” if they were to
explain variations in written texts.
Establishing Ap propria te Tertia Comparationis
Comparing texts across languages and cultures is no easy
matter. Methodological problems abound. As Claire Krmasch
(2004: pp. 254-255) observes “an essay is not an essay is not an
essay when written in different languages for different audi-
ences with different purposes in mind.” Moreover, it has been
found that the same names given to genres across national edu-
cational systems are not methodologically reliable. For example,
Mauranen (1994) has shown that same labels given to genres
such as the Seminar and the Essay have distinctive functions
and values in the Finnish and British educational systems:
In the English (Kent) system, each unit known as a
“course” is a cluster of very closely interlinked genres. A
certain number of these make up a year, and three com-
pleted years constitute a degree. The Finnish (Jyvaskela)
system consists of smaller course units, each covering one
or two discourse types only, but the units combine into
larger wholes which constitute stages in the study system,
and completing all the stage earns a degree (Mauranen,
1994: p. 6).
In an attempt to address the problem of establishing a com-
mon platform for CR studies, Connor and Moreno (2005) pro-
posed a methodology based on the construct of “tertium com-
parationis or common platform of comparison” (p. 154). This
construct requires that CR studies should, first, compare texts
or textual elements which can be compared. It consists of a
three-level procedure: a) identifying texts for corpora; b) se-
lecting textual concepts to be studied in the corpora; and c)
identifying linguistic features that are to be used to realize these
concepts (p. 154).
Connor’s and Moreno’s (2005) article builds on an earlier
study by Moreno (1998) of the expression of premise-conclu-
sion signaling devices in a corpus of RAs written by Spanish
and English academic writers. Examples of these devices com-
prise such signals as connectives (e.g. therefore, as a conse-
quence), and expressions such as the results indicate that (for a
full taxonomy, see Moreno, 1998: pp. 561-562). In order to
maximize the similarity constraints in her corpus, Moreno
(1998) identified five tertia comparationis. These are: text form
= expository writing; genre = RA; subject-matter/topic = busi-
ness and economics; level of expertise = expert writers, and
global superstructure: introductions-methods-discussion sec-
tions of RAs, and other rhetorical patterns as Problem-Solution-
Using qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis, Mo-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
reno (1998) found striking similarities in the use and distribu-
tion of the expression of premise-conclusion in the two writing
corpora. These similarities were explained by the influence of
English-speaking academia on Spanish business education,
such as the frequent use of English language business materials
in Spanish schools and universities. The only difference, how-
ever, emerged at the interpersonal/interactional level of text
(Halliday, 1978), especially in the expression of claims and
counterclaims. Unlike their American peers, Spanish academics
tend to express claims with conviction and confidence. This
was shown by the frequent use of hedges in the American texts
and the paucity of such devices in the Spanish texts. Although
Moreno’s contribution (1998) is essentially methodological, her
results suggest a great level of increasing homogenization
across academic cultures as a result of the growing global in-
fluence of the American academic culture. This influence re-
mains to be shown, however, for the case of other distant lan-
guages and cultures. Of particular interest here are questions of
difference and accommodation in textual form and organization
in lingua franca contexts as academic writers should learn how
to address larger and highly competitive research communities.
There also remains the question of resistance to the dominant
culture and the rhetorical strategies that may be employed in
order to negotiate and/or oppose the hegemony of such culture
(Canagarajah, 2002, 2007).
Intercultural Rhetoric: A Discourse Approach
Building on Srikant Sarangi’s (1995) discussion of the con-
cepts of culture and language in intercultural pragmatic re-
search, Connor (2004b) suggests using the term intercultural
rhetoric, instead of CR, in order to designate the “analysis of an
actual encounter between two participants who represent dif-
ferent linguistic and cultural backgrounds” (Sarangi 1995: p.
22). She suggests that this term help both avoid the “static”
model associated with traditional CR studies and subsume “the
current dynamic models of cross-cultural research” (Connor,
2004b: p. 272).
Aware of the methodological problems inherent in current
cultural comparisons of academic practice, Mauranen (2001)
introduces the term “glocalization” (Robertson, 1995) in order
to counteract such essentialist, simplified and stereotypical con-
structions of writing traditions and cultures. She argues that
“the universal, or the general, and the local are mutually defin-
ing, and they receive their meanings and identities from each
other. Local identities arise from intercultural encounters,
brought about or accelerated by globalization” (Mauranen,
2001: p. 51). Mauranen’s (2001) idea, though so often assumed
than actually realized, points to the need to depart from abstract
comparisons of cultures and individuals and to focus, instead,
on the co-constructive and dynamic aspects of communication
and discourse in situated action and language use.
A discourse approach to intercultural communication is ex-
actly the one expounded by Scollon and Scollon (2001) in an
article entitled “Discourse and intercultural communication.” In
this article, Scollon and Scollon (2001) introduced the concept
of interdiscourse communication in order to avoid the meth-
odological demurrals associated with traditional intercultural
communication cultural studies. Building on Gee’s (1999)
Foucault’s-inspired (19 72) notion of Discourse (with a capital d)
as constituting “ways of being in the world, or forms of life
which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social
identities” (p. 17), Scollon and Scollon (2001: p. 543) propose
treating culture as “a minor discursive formation at best.” That
is, culture as constituting “one of a very wide range of dis-
courses at play in any particular instance of discourse” (p. 543).
Scollon and Scollon (2001) take Gee’s (1999) concept of
Discourses or discourse systems as providing a “conceptual
framework” (p. 542) which helps to deconstruct “reified cul-
tural or social identities on the one hand and of apriorist views
of the person on the other” (p. 542). This perspective is outlined
in the following terms:
We take the position that in any instance of actual com-
munication we are mutually positioned within an indefi-
nite number of Discourses (in the Gee sense) or within
what we have called discourse systems. These discourse
systems would include those of gender, generation, pro-
fession, corporate or institutional placement, regional,
ethnic, and other possible identities. As each of these dis-
course systems is manifested in a complex network of
forms of discourse, face relationships, socialization pat-
terns and ideologies, this multiple membership and iden-
tity produces simultaneous internal (to the person) and
external contradictions (Scollon & Scollon, 2001: p. 544).
Thus, in this perspective, the discourse system of a certain
professional culture would comprise such elements as forms
and functions of discourse, socialization, enculturation and ac-
culturation patterns, ideologies (beliefs, values and power rela-
tions), and face systems (projection of self and ingroup and
outgroup membership). In this sense, culture is seen as an
emergent and “ongoing process of construction and negotia-
tion” (Kramsch, 2002: p. 281) interacting with, and impinging
on, these elements of discourse.
Kramsch (2002: p. 281) singles out three principles on which
this perspective on intercultural communicati o n i s base d :
1) “Intercultural communication is social action.” It is not
a “representation of thought or values”. It is “an ecologi-
cal phenomenon, based on a tacit habitus (Bourdieu,
1977), that positions the participants and socializes them
into members of communities of practice while differenti-
ating them from other non-members;”
2) Social action takes shape through communication;
3) Communicative practice is “embedded in history i.e. in
contradictions and complications. It is characterized by
interdiscursivity, intertextuality, and dialogicality” (p.
In a second step, Scollon and Scollon (2001: pp. 544-545)
outlined the methodology which can be followed in the analysis
of a typical intercultural communicative exchange. First, a dis-
course approach would begin by assuming that individuals in
communication in professional or institutional settings belong
to different cultural groups and that their communication can be
treated as a problem in communication. Second, quantitative or
qualitative discourse studies can be established to analyze the
typical linguistic and rhetorical patterns followed by these
groups and the perceptions and values that these groups would
assign to these patterns. Third, through a close analysis of this
discourse patterns actually produced, the discourse analyst
would identify the problems which may have led to a commu-
nication breakdown. This breakdowns is to be found not in the
assumed entities of linguistic and cultural membership, but in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 153
patterns of language use, in the history of socialization of
groups into different discourse communities, and a “misunder-
standing of contextualization cues (Gumperz, 2001) in the ac-
tual situation of communicating with each other” (p. 545).
Overall, the analysis would impose the concept of cultural
membership only when this variable is emergent and invoked
by the participants themselves.
Having summarized the principles on which this discourse
approach to intercultural communication is based and outlined
the methodology which it attempts to employ, I shall now move
to provide some examples in order to illustrate this framework.
The Case Study
The first example comes from my own doctoral study of a
major twentieth century scientific controversy in the early
1980s over AIDS research (Helal, 2009, Helal, forthcoming).
The controversy was about claiming priority rights for the dis-
covery of the AIDS virus between French scientists at the In-
stitut Pasteur in Paris and American scientists at the National
Institutes of Health in Maryland. The controversy was played
out predominantly in leading Anglophone journals based in the
UK and USA. In particular, I set out to investigate some of the
features of the style used by both research teams and to tenta-
tively suggest some of the reasons for the French research au-
thors’ performance in the debate, which was considered poor
from both the American and international perspectives.
On the methodological level, the RAs published by the
American and French scientists during one of the major 20th-
century scientific disputes provided ideal equivalent contrasting
parameters which have been deemed as one, but so far unat-
tained, design features in contrastive discourse analysis studies.
Besides their belonging to the same field, the RAs published by
the French and American research teams during the so-called
“AIDS virus hunt” seemed to satisfy Swales’s (2004 tertia
comparationis of “status, likely audience reached, and level of
rewriting and editorial gatekeeping” (p. 244).
Using a combination of a rhetorical model adopted from
Swales (1990) and a concordance software to analyze the RA
introductions written by both research team, I found interesting
similarities and differences, but since the differences were so
striking, let me provide a quick synopsis. It was found that both
research teams based their presentation on the introductory
schema described in the CARS model. This was shown by the
emergence of the three moves in both paper sets. Substantial
differences emerged, however, at the level of the development
and elaboration of the schema. While the French research au-
thors followed a simple, relaxed and unelaborated pattern, their
American counterparts opted for a recycled and elaborated
pattern of presentation by consistently reviewing previous lit-
erature and deducing research conclusions from it. These re-
sults in the American papers being longer than the French ones.
The qualitative analysis of the argumentation patterns fol-
lowed by each research team indicated that while the French
proceeded with an inductive pattern of presentation character-
ized by the reticence and the reluctance of the French scientists
to distinguish their virus from the American one and to impli-
cate it as the causative agent of the disease, the American pro-
ceeded with a deductive and bold style. This was shown by the
use of such statements as “We are testing the possibility
that ….” “That our virus is the cause of AIDS can be suggested
by….” In short, if the American rhetoric was geared to justify-
ing “why we are considering this possibility,” the French rheto-
ric was directed to “here is what we found and here we attempt
to describe how we had found it.” The rhetorical and argumen-
tation patterns followed by each research team were further
confirmed by analyzing the use of sentence connectors, per-
sonal pronouns, hedges and boosters which emphasized the
fact-based orientation of the French prose vs. the argument-
based orientation of the American one during the AIDS con-
troversy. However, by the end of the controversy, certain ac-
commodating rhetorical acts on the French part were observed.
This made the French papers look much more like the Ameri-
can ones and much more engaged with scientific argumentation
than in the onset of the controversy.
Rather than attributing these differences, noted especially in
French texts to the quintessentially Gallic character of the
French intellectual style, or to linguistic interference of some
kind as many contrastive rhetoricians would have believed (e.g.
Galtung, 1988), I attempted to account for their characteristics
in terms of the American and French scientists’ perception as to
what constitutes appropriate academic conduct during the de-
bate, the way they constructed their readership, and the socio-
politics of knowledge production in French and American cul-
tures. The explanation in terms of the construction of readership
was supported by interview data with one of the leaders of the
French scientists who indicates “it is not a question of lack of
confidence or competence or ‘humility’ in making a case (as
many had thought), we expected them (the readers) to put two
and two together” (Francoise-Barre Sinoussi, interview data,
cited in Reeves, 1998: p. 9-10).
Differences in the sociopolitics of knowledge production
were supported by the idea that that during the 1980s the para-
digm of the “hard-sell competitive approach” characteristic of
the American science seemed not to find its way to French
science and so the French scientists were still subscribing to “an
enlightenment ethic.” This is, as humble servants in the disci-
pline working in the name of Science, it appeared that the
French scientists saw no need to provide an elaborated and
lengthy rhetorical defense of the topic. What was important was
to get the facts right. This reading was further supported by the
French research authors’ association of American rhetoric with
politics and salesmanship: “We have learned more of politics
than of science during all this. We never thought we would
have to be good salesmen in order to be heard” (Montagnier,
head of the French research team cited in Shilts, 1987: p. 496).
Similar accounts in the scientific literature also attest to the
conservative and rigid nature of French scientific institutions
(Balter, 1998: pp. 312-314).
Although the accommodations in French rhetorical style
noted in the later papers posed something of a puzzle which
could not immediately be solved, two explanatory factors were
suggested. The first was attributed to developmental factors,
and the second to the sociolinguistic factor. The first factor was
that the French scientists who participated in the controversy
were learning the style associated with the global scientific
culture. The second factor was that sociolinguistic research
suggested that the process of speech accommodation operates
on the principle that individuals adjust their speech so as to
induce others to “evaluate them more favorably by reducing
dissimilarities between them” (Giles & Powesland, 1997: p.
233) regardless of all the risks they may undergo.
Building on the Bakhtinian (1986) view of genre as being the
property of discourse communities and their accumulated ex-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
perience (Bakhtin, 1986), I suggested that the “AIDS War”
could be interpreted as a “genre war,” that is, a clash between
two generic conventions and ways of constructing and re-
sponding to particular events. Moreover, since rhetoric is both a
mode of conflict and a means of managing and building com-
munities (Gross & Keith, 1997), it seemed to me that the con-
troversy analyzed in the study was not between an appropriate,
inappropriate or a reserved style or an audacious and powerful
one, but between two genres and two discourse communities
involved in what Kramsch and Throne (2002: p. 99) called
“global communicative practice.”
As this study and other similar ones have indicated (Freder-
ickson & Swales, 1994) meaning and interpretation are essen-
tially determined by discourse community characteristics and
the writer’s orientation to, and construction of, that community
rather than by such static concepts as language and culture.
Clearly, if texts have different organizations, it is because they
have different communicative purposes, and their readerships
have different orientations and expectations. Such explanation
is far from the traditional assumptions of CR. I believe that if
the CR agenda is to move forward, it should attempt to set aside
such a priori notions as the writer’s language and culture if it
were to adequately continue “trying to understand the distant
other in order to better understand ourselves” (Swales, 1996: p.
25) and to promote a fair, healthy and non-deficit model of
The main argument of this paper has been that in a world
where the notion of national cultures is being eroded by inter-
national academic (and otherwise) transactions and alliances,
the time seems apt to depart from such a priori, often static
concepts as language, thought and culture. It proposes to focus,
instead, on the co-constructive aspects of communications, and
the meanings and identities arising in concrete and situated
rhetorical action. Clearly, it has become increasingly estab-
lished that the analysis of decontextualized and synchronic texts
from abstract entities across-cultural and linguistic boundaries
will lead to certain stereotypes and prejudices which are un-
wanted both for research and pedagogical practice. The study
has advanced a number of examples which could lend further
proof to this growing trend in intercultural academic rhetoric. I
believe that a discourse approach, in the sense advanced by
Scollon and Scollon (2001), and exemplified in this paper can
serve as a useful theoretical framework not only for appreciat-
ing the differences found in intercultural academic rhetoric, but
also for the teaching of academic writing whether in Anglo-
phone or non-Anglophone writing contexts. A discourse ap-
proach to intercultural rhetoric does not dispense with the con-
cepts of language, culture and identity. Rather, it forces us to
examine these constructs as arising from the discursive man-
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