Functions of Frequently Used Back Channels in a Corpus of Intercultural Conversations between Hong Kong Chinese (HKC) and native English Speakers (NES)

Jenny Yau-ni Wan (1)
(1) Department of English Language and Literature Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong


In conversation, two channels operate simultaneously. Yngve (1970) refers that the ‘main’ channel is that through which the speaker sends messages, whereas the ‘back’ channel, such as okay, mm is that over which the listener offers response without claiming the speakership. Back channels are particular to languages and cultures. The present study aims to examine the naturally occurring conversations between Hong Kong Chinese (HKC) and native English speakers (NES) and to investigate how these culturally divergent participants manage to use different back channels. Two important taxonomies that describe variations in cultural patterns in the present study are Hofstede’s cultural differences and Hall’s high-context and low-context cultures. The results reveal that NES use more newsmarkers, change-of-activity tokens and markers of dispreference than HKC; while HKC use more continuers and acknowledgement back channels. The present study hopes to develop better culturally specific discourse strategies in intercultural encounters.

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Jenny Yau-ni Wan (Primary Contact)
Author Biography

Jenny Yau-ni Wan, Department of English Language and Literature Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Dr. Jenny Yau-ni Wan is teaching English proficiency courses and researching professional discourse analysis, intercultural communication, English for academic purposes in Hong Kong Shue Yan University.

Wan, J. Y.- ni. (2018). Functions of Frequently Used Back Channels in a Corpus of Intercultural Conversations between Hong Kong Chinese (HKC) and native English Speakers (NES). Journal of Intercultural Communication, 18(1), 1–14.

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