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Lost in the Jungle of Terminology: Reciprocity in Different Fields of Study

Perdu dans la forêt de la terminologie : Réciprocité dans différents domaines d'étude
Lennart Koch


La réciprocité en tandem est généralement traitée comme une norme de comportement d’entraide et de distribution égale du temps consacré à chaque langue. Bien que la réciprocité ait fait l’objet d’un débat de longue date dans différents domaines d’études aux termes apparentés tels que coopération, interaction, alignement ou ajustements conversationnel dans la communication, le principe du tandem n’a, jusqu’à très récemment, presque jamais été associé au débat dans d’autres disciplines. Et bien que la réciprocité dans beaucoup de ces domaines soit considérée comme présentant un intérêt fondamental, seulement quelques contributions ont été apportées à la proposition de définitions pouvant servir de base opérationnelle à des recherches ultérieures. Une discussion sur la relation entre la norme de réciprocité et d'autres normes ou maximes conversationnelles fait également défaut. Cet article traite de différentes interprétations de la réciprocité et de termes similaires à la lumière de la réciprocité en tandem.

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1. Social interaction through the exchange of symbolic gifts

1The scientific debate about reciprocity started at the beginning of the 20th century with various contributions to the importance of gift giving for society in sociology and anthropology and from then on, it continued into other fields such as Philosophy and Economics. In France in particular, a number of important authors have dealt with the topic, starting with the famous text "Essai sur le don" by Mauss from 1923/4, whose considerations were continued in the structuralism perspective with Levi-Strauss, the question of symbolic capital in Bourdieu, the reflections of Derrida on the possibility of a pure gift and the implications of forgiveness in Christianity with Ricoeur (see Adloff and Mau).

2In this debate, the reciprocal exchange of goods or symbolic acts is regarded as a fundamental phenomenon of human action, and the French debate was particularly concerned with the question of whether a gift can be given without any special interest or if it is instead always given, although maybe not consciously, in the interest of a later return. Overall, the debate has steadily differentiated itself and reciprocity is now understood as a phenomenon that is already reflected in rudimentary form in primates, but especially in human beings it proves to be a decisive element for the building of structures in the most diverse spheres of society such as religion, morality, market, law etc. (Adloff and Mau; Boehme-Neßler; Caillé; Eneau; Koch; Mauss). It is astonishing how little attention is usually paid in this debate to the communication that goes with it.

3In particular, the research group on Revue du Mauss has established reciprocity as a topic in sociology following the work of Mauss in recent decades, insisting, above all, that reciprocity first and foremost is a question of a symbolic exchange, where the exact correspondence of that exchanged –in contrast to market exchange– is not relevant. From this perspective, the symbolic give and take, which leaves the equivalent of the return in an open, non-specific, time frame, creates the social binding power of reciprocity. In "Anthropologie du don", Caillé (165) develops the thesis that social facts are symbolic in themselves: Gifts are not only symbols, but symbols are also gifts. At the same time, however, communicative exchange itself is almost never considered, as if symbols could arise without communication at all. This may be related to a focus on action in sociology; but Caillé (173) himself emphasizes that for Mauss the reality of society does not precede that of symbols. He considers it a special merit of Mauss to acknowledge the social as symbolic, making visible the common features of the reality of the social, the individual and of cultural diversity.

4In fact, there are various theories and areas of research, from that of conversational analysis and psycholinguistics to the theory of communicative action, which explicitly deal with the question of the connection between communication and society. The question that interests us here is what is the connection between reciprocity in sociological-anthropological theory and reciprocity in communication? Are these completely different terms of reciprocity or are they interrelated? Is the concept of reciprocity in tandem close to that of communication theories?

2. A common research horizon for different terms

5It is important to say that authors like Eneau see reciprocity in tandem as part of the reciprocity debate in the wake of Mauss' theory, without addressing communication. Although Eneau cites tandem learning only as an example that is not explained in more detail, his contribution is interesting because he is concerned about the connection between the development of reciprocity and autonomy in learning. The essay reaffirms the positions in the autonomy debate (see Koch "Notwendigkeit"), which argue against a restricted Western model of autonomy in the sense of independence and emphasizes that autonomy can only be achieved in concrete socio-cultural relations, i.e. via reciprocity. According to this, the tandem principle of assisting the other in language learning in the way one wants to be supported oneself would only be a concrete variant of reciprocity in society. This point of view is explaining the relationship between reciprocity norms in tandem and sociology in a simple and direct way. The subsequent question, however, would then be, why is it that one cannot take for granted that learners support each other in international encounters. Instead we have to declare reciprocity as a normative principle that urges students to do something they apparently would not do by themselves. This is a question of the normative status of rules and maxims that we will come back to below. On the other hand, the first topic we are dealing with here is whether reciprocity in language has anything to do with the principle of reciprocity in symbolic exchange in society.

6There is undoubtedly a long research tradition which examines linguistic reciprocity structures in many language, and part of this tradition not only compares reflexive structures in different languages, but also is fully aware of the sociological and anthropological debate (Evans et al.). It is certainly interesting to ask how reciprocity is expressed grammatically and how tandem partners help each other to express that and learn the appropriate linguistic means to do so. But, in this last statement, it already becomes clear how questionable it would be to claim that reciprocity in language has nothing to do with reciprocity in society. Of course, not every reciprocal exchange of symbols is accompanied by a communicative act using grammatical (e.g. reciprocal pronouns) or lexical (e.g. "with each other") forms of reciprocity, but it is certainly the case the other way round. In addition, for example, the following questions arise,

7a) Which symbolic acts are relevant in a culture and language in a specific reciprocal situation of giving and taking?

8b) Is the gift in situations like tandem, in any kind of counselling or coaching or in friendship etc. the conversation itself?

9In the background runs the debate that concerns evolutionary biology, whether reciprocal action is essential for primates (Voland 106ff; de Waal 170f) or whether the specific communicative forms of reciprocity can even serve to make the difference in the definition for what can be considered to be typical for humans or other primates (Tomasello and Racoczy; Arienti). In this respect, therefore, one of the questions on the threshold between evolutionary biology, sociology and linguistics is:

10c) What if the first gift is the human language itself, which in reciprocal communicative exchange represents the pattern of all subsequent reciprocal actions?

11Following the Humboldt linguistics tradition, a research horizon opens up, which examines how reciprocity in language affects the constitution of meaning and how it affects the different levels of reciprocal action in society. With these questions it becomes clear that while the relationship between reciprocity in language and society is very complex, it is of immense importance for a wide range of disciplines.

12These are not entirely new questions; various scientific disciplines from Linguistics, Sociology and Psychology have already contributed a great deal to their answer. But, while in the socio-anthropological reciprocity debate completely different concepts such as market, love, intergenerational help, symbolic capital etc., despite having completely different theoretical prerequisites, have been discussed without problems in the same discourse context, this is by no means the case in linguistics. Thus, concepts such as reciprocity, cooperation, interaction or alignment are used side by side, without paying much attention to their relationship to each other or to the socio-anthropological reciprocity debate.

3. The psychological assumption of a coincidence of perspectives

13For Cicourel and Kallmeyer, for example, the concept of reciprocity does not serve to determine an interactive communicative process, but rather, serves as a prerequisite for it. Cicourel has defined four basic rules that may be applied to quasi-rational conditions of everyday communication. These include the "reciprocity of perspectives", the "prospective retrospective meaning", the "et-cetera assumption" and the "normal case assumption". The "reciprocity of perspectives" means the presumption of the participants in the conversation that the interpretation of their conversation, despite all the individual differences in patterns of interpretation, coincides far enough to be able to talk about the same thing. Kallmeyer (63f) also sees reciprocity as

  • 1 Our translation proposal for: "[…] eine Struktur wechselseitiger Unterstellungen der Interaktionsbe (...)

a structure of reciprocal assumptions of the interlocutors, that their partners, as well as themselves, are ready and able to apply the procedures of the constitution of meaning and their implementation in action and that their partners assume the same for them.1 (Kallmeyer 63f)

14In both cases, these are variations of the thesis already formulated by Schütz (12) that interlocutors in the joint production of meaning in conversation ideally assume that alter can adopt the points of view of ego, because the relevance systems are sufficiently congruent. Kallmeyer, however, is more concerned with the ability and willingness to understand meaning. These theories therefore in no way claim that in conversations interlocutors apply sufficiently similar kinds of concepts or representations. Interlocutors only assume, that is the most important point, that the counterpart does so or is able to do so – whether, how far and in what situations this is the case, is another question.

15At the conceptual level, it is more plausible, to speak (like Schütz does) of an ideal assumption of the other's sufficiently similar point of view rather than of reciprocity. Of course, this is a mutual process which is very important for reciprocity. But actually nothing is exchanged, nothing is given. Schütz' affirmation is a psychological thesis that can hardly be equated with the sociological-anthropological concept of reciprocity. If, for Schütz, Cicourel and Kallmeyer, the crucial point is that alter and ego only assume that it is indeed so, then this assumption may well be wrong. This is especially true if the relevance system or frame of reference to which ego refers is not shared by alter at all, or if meaning, representations and reference to action are produced in a very different way. In this respect, from a linguistic point of view, especially in an intercultural context and in tandem, it is necessary to investigate in which situations and to what extent this assumption is adequate or not.

4. From the 'egocentrism' of the interlocutor to intercultural competence

16Unlike in communicative situations between people who share the same language and culture, this is about different frames of reference, in which the constitution of meaning in social action may take place under different conditions. In intercultural debate and psycholinguistics, therefore, the idea that one takes for granted that the other shares the same meanings and adopts the same interpretations as oneself has been described as the egocentrism of the speaker-hearer (Barr and Keysar). Kecskes (79) emphasizes that compared to neo-Gricean approaches or the relevance theory, the decisive factor in intercultural pragmatics is "salience", not relevance or cooperation:

Both speakers and hearers rely on their most accessible and salient knowledge expressed in their private contexts in production and comprehension. (…) Language processing is anchored in the assumption that what is salient or accessible to oneself will also be accessible to one's interlocutors. This is what is called the 'egocentrism' of the speaker-hearer. What is salient, based on their prior experience, is always on their mind subconsciously and automatically. This is why it is not enough to emphasize only the co-constructed, emergent part of the communicative process. Together with societal factors, emphasis must also be put on individual cognitive factors (prior experience). (Kecskes 79)

17The individual experience mentioned by Kecskes above also depends, of course, on societal factors that influence the personal development of human abilities. Not only the egocentric assumption of ego of a shared frame of reference but also the takeover of this interpretation by alter is important for reciprocity in communicative action. Other relevant psychological competences which develop with the evolution of every individual are imitation, intentionality, shared attention (when two people tend to a common third object) and the theory of mind (the capacity to realize what alter thinks and that this may be incorrect). Bjorklund and Pellegrini (71) highlight: "Although theory of mind develops at about the same time in most children around the world, the rate of its development is related to aspects of children's social environment, including quality of attachment, parenting styles, parent-child communication […] etc."

18In general, they maintain that the most appropriate model for the interaction of the nature of the individual with society is to assume, that "new structures do not arise fully formed, but are the result of the bidirectional relationship between levels of biological and experiential factors, from the genetic to the cultural." (Bjorklund and Pellegrini 66) All these capacities develop in different moments of an individual's evolution and with them the capacity for reciprocal interaction.

19It is therefore misleading to put forward the thesis that people assume that their alter ego would see the situation in a similar way as themselves and therefore come to similar interpretations in relation to the ongoing conversation as the "reciprocity of perspectives". Instead it is an important but rather egocentric psychological skill for communicative reciprocity and, if we take the theory of mind into account, young children are not capable of realizing that this egocentric assumption might be incorrect. Intercultural theories such as the culture shock theory (Oberg) or the theory of the development of intercultural sensitivity (Bennett) predict that this skill or ability can develop in the encounter with other cultures in a long, but not unproblematic process. The crucial point for the interlocutor is to gain experience in intercultural communication, so that one can reach quite divergent interpretations of the conversation, because the frame of reference and the construction of meaning may be different, which, according to these theories, initiates a sometimes quite difficult adaptation process. Intercultural competence is therefore sometimes described as the overcoming of the egocentric perspective that results from the assumption of the other's sharing of one's own meaning and interpretation (Rathje): Only those who are capable of questioning these assumptions self-reflexively can come to understand the distance between their own socio-cultural meanings, representations, basic assumptions and proceedings in communicative interaction in relation to that of their target culture and language. The self-reflexive distance from their own assumptions, formerly seen as natural, is the gateway for the communicative competence which enables the interlocutor to act cooperatively in the other culture. The perceived differences can then lead to the modification of one's own reference framework in the respective intercultural context. They can also be verbalized as differences in the conversation itself. Cooperativeness, which seeks to secure further cooperation through the conversation, therefore means, in the intercultural context, exactly the opposite of what Kallmeyer (see above) has defined. It is not the result of the egocentric psychological assumption of a shared process of interpretation with similar representations and meanings, but the ability to question, modify and adapt these in a different and challenging communicative context.

20To examine reciprocity in the intercultural context therefore means to observe whether and how interlocutors adapt to other conditions and expectations, and how this becomes evident in communication. If we want to investigate, additionally, whether reciprocity in communication and action are interdependent and influence each other, we would have to observe what consequences (the lack of) communicative modification and adaptation have for reciprocity in symbolic interaction in intercultural contact situations.

5. Alignment and common ground

21This topic is also important for another psychological theory that might be confused with reciprocity, which is the psycholinguistic alignment theory of Pickering and Garrod. These authors state that psycholinguistics has traditionally been more oriented towards the monologue and has instead ignored dialogue. In their view psycholinguistics was dominated by generative linguistics, whose main theory of competence and performance "sits ill" with dialogue, "because it is hard to determine whether a particular utterance is 'well-formed' or not" (2). As they are concerned with mechanisms in language they suggest that dialogue should be investigated in context. Production and comprehension are very tight-knit, the "meaning of what is being communicated depends on the interlocutors' agreement or consensus rather than on dictionary meanings and is subject to negotiation" (4). In this process they distinguish coordination, "where interlocutors are coordinated in a successful dialogue just as participants in any successful joint activity" from alignment, which means that interlocutors "share the representations at some level" (4). Alignment theory observes how primitive psychological priming mechanisms lead to alignment of situational models, and how these produce alignment on a lexical and a syntactical level and how misaligned representations are corrected interactively.

22According to Pickering and Garrod, to maintain two different underlying representations of the situation would be costly and inefficient, and the exceptions they mention, like deception, do not take inter- or transculturality into account. In those cases of different underlying representation they suggest communication might work but they doubt if speaker-hearers would understand the "same thing" (4). Misunderstanding, from this point of view, seems to be the effect of misalignment, which means that models of the interlocutors are not fully adapted as for example in unresolved arguments.

23Conversational analysis has illuminated many of these fields for decades, investigating routines, joint construction, monitoring and repair. Schegloff (xv) criticizes therefore in the open peer commentary following the article of Pickering and Garrod (39) the absence of context of turn production and turn-taking organization whose contingencies determine in part the syntactic construction and choice of lexicon. He underlines that the matters treated by Pickering and Garrod are not interactionally random:

How one says what one says can depend on who the other is; and, of all the persons and categories which could be used to characterize "the other" depends on which one had been made relevant at the moment in the talk, or can be made relevant by constructing the same "sayable" in this way or that. (Schegloff xv)

24The view of various critics that the assumption of a real common ground in Pickering and Garrod is not sufficiently complex because it is based on simplistic examples is also relevant for reciprocity. In the open peer commentary (Pickering and Garrod 23ff) various authors claim that Pickering and Garrod's use of the terms implicit and explicit common ground are confusing or unconvincing, because what they call implicit common ground is shared knowledge.

25If we compare this theory with the argument from Schütz, Cicourel, Kallmeyer, Kesckez et al. we can see a main difference: While these authors say that language processing of the interlocutors is based on the believe to rely on the same representations Pickering and Garrod sustain that they actually rely on the same representations. If the common ground were necessary and not just the assumption of a common ground, intercultural conversation would probably fail to a greater extent. It would be more convincing to include the egocentric assumption of the interlocutors rather than assuming that they mean the same thing. This would allow us to explain why conversations in intercultural situations with a greater ambiguity tolerance often work amazingly well.

26The alignment theory explains to a certain extent why reciprocity is implemented so quickly and efficiently at the psychological level. In this respect, their results are interesting for the study of reciprocity, but the investigation on reciprocity should focus on observable processes in conversations and their social consequences. In reciprocity examinations, therefore, no statements or assumptions should be made about psychological or neural processes, even if these are interesting for learning mechanisms that are used to consolidate certain reciprocal processes in conversation. Reciprocity instead observes how social reality is constructed in communication through reciprocal activity, how interlocutors from (different) cultures communicate and how this contributes to social stratification in the reciprocal symbolic exchange of giving and taking.

6. Merging the concepts of social and communicative reciprocity

27In this regard, Koch ("Principles") recently explained the importance of reciprocity in communication for linguistic theories that follow the Humboldt tradition, the sociology based on Mead's theory of symbolic interactionism, or Conversational Analysis. In bringing these research traditions together with the debate on reciprocity in symbolic exchange, he has proposed a definition and a related reciprocity norm, which observes both the language of reciprocal interaction and reciprocity in language. According to this it is only the intertwined process of reciprocal communication and interaction, of giving and receiving, which constructs the social sphere with all its symbolic meanings through the exchange of words and objects. Hence, the following definition:

Reciprocity is the mode and rhythm of the exchange of information and objects in a given historical socio-cultural situation between two or more communicators, which entails the obligation to respond to a perceived impulse or gift in a way and time frame that corresponds to an acquired convention. It contributes to the building and perception of meaning, social relationship and stratification. (Koch "Principles" 126f)

  • 2 Our translation proposal for: "[…] Gründe für mögliche Verstehensprobleme psychologisierend im Bere (...)

28Reciprocity in interculturality and tandem is observing the dialogue not only when representations are expected to be shared. Investigation on reciprocity questions, what can be called a “successful dialogue” and asks how certain reciprocate communicative behaviors may lead to expected patterns in behavior and contribute to the constitution of shared concepts which finally build different communicative patterns, reference frames and worldviews in certain cultures. Müller-Jacquier (22) has stressed that problems in intercultural communication often result from the fact that the interlocutors falsely consider the "reasons for possible problems of understanding, attributing them psychologically in the realm of different values."2 As a result, different communicative (especially para-and non-verbal) behavioural patterns and linguistic conventions are often misunderstood as an expression of different values, worldviews and ways of being, which might even lead to incorrect interpretations in empirical research. When the other interlocutor does not meet one's own expectations of a communicative situation, it is not easy to realize that important aspects of communicative reciprocity such as different rhythms and modes of turn talking, of proximity or eye contact as well as various linguistic forms of courtesy or culture-specific markings of rational action are the consequence of different communication conventions.

29Thus, the study of reciprocity is not focused on psychological processes but on what is actually expressed and uttered in conversation and how it is done. Reciprocity in language therefore could be analyzed by any approach which investigates language in interaction in society, from the linguistic tradition following Humboldt or the symbolic interactionists, ethnomethodology, conversational analysis, Goffman's frame analysis, sociolinguistics, construction grammar etc. It offers the possibility to connect the debate on reciprocity in gift giving with the debate on reciprocity in language.

7. Reciprocity norm of communication and conversational maxims

30From this perspective a reciprocity norm of communication is more fundamental than the reciprocity norm in tandem, because reciprocity in communication can be considered the basis for interaction in the three fundamental steps of 1) utterance, 2) perception and 3) response. Thus, the reciprocity norm of communication is: "If someone speaks to you and you notice it, you should answer!" (Koch "Principles" 125)

  • 3 Our translation proposal for: "[…] ob alle wollen können, dass in meiner Lage jedermann nach dersel (...)

31In comparison to the already mentioned conversational maxims from Cicourel or Grice or the conversational obligations and rights in Habermas' "The Inclusion of the Other" ("Einbeziehung" 63) this norm has a different kind of status. These maxims are prescriptive; they explain how to behave if someone wants to have a rational and meaningful conversation. The same is true of the known reciprocity norm in tandem, which is just as prescriptive: It dictates how tandem partners should behave towards each other so that both can learn from each other equally. On the other hand, the reciprocity norm of communication developed following Watzlawick's dictum (Koch Principles 125) that one cannot not communicate is descriptive. If, by definition, communication exists between at least two interlocutors, what has not been perceived cannot be considered communication. But if it has been perceived by the other and not answered, it is inevitably considered by the first interlocutor to be a denial or avoidance, whatever the reasons for that avoidance. Consequently, the reciprocity norm of communication is previous to other conversational maxims, it can make a universal claim that is also the origin of any parent-child communication. In the context of the aforementioned reciprocity definition, this reciprocity norm allows us to investigate whether, when, where and how appropriate communication maxims are applied situationally. The analysis of reciprocity in conversation is therefore particularly close to any approach that does not presuppose the communicative use of concepts, symbols, norms and rules as well as that of rationality, but examines them as a resource of interlocutors. It does not presuppose rationality or other conditions of communication, but can contribute to the study of the consolidation of meaning and communicative conventions through routines in communicative communities, institutions and cultures. It can help to understand, how in the symbolic interaction of giving and taking 'Lifeworld' arises. However, it is not a question, as in the theory of communicative action explained, of whether the individual, in a morally problematic situation, chooses to act either pragmatically, instrumentally or instead morally and therefore to ask "whether everyone could want to proceed in my situation according to the same maxim" (Habermas "Erläuterungen" 105).3 Although forms of communicative reciprocity develop in certain socio-cultural living environments and contribute to maintaining its social conditions in a communicative way, following the debate on reciprocity in symbolic exchange it would be particularly interesting to investigate how language in reciprocal interaction is managed in situations of different interests, ideologies, social strata or cultural backgrounds.

8. Reciprocal communicative adaption in intercultural encounters

32The communication maxims corresponding to reciprocity in intercultural communication have been described in the context of ethnomethodology as a method of ambiguity tolerance (cf. Müller 93), i.e. in conversations in which sufficient common ground cannot be automatically assumed. More important than the standard-case assumption mentioned above are the maxims of "prospective retrospective meaning" and the "et-cetera assumption". That is, the interlocutor assumes that it is possible to understand the meaning, which is currently untraceable, by means of subsequent information, and he realizes that the hypotheses of meaning designed in the course of the conversation afterwards might turn out to be incorrect. One can ask for the unknown context but for a beginner there are often too many doubts and the time span to clarify all the possible questions can extend well beyond a single conversation. For understanding in an intercultural context the associated strategies have a special function such as: (1) "let it pass" – out of courtesy, not interrupt constantly in case of non-understanding, or (2) "filling in" – an experimental filling of the gaps of understanding and (3) "unless" – the assumption that the really relevant aspects have been captured in spite of the amount of incomplete contextual information. These strategies depend on the language proficiency and communicative context: An A2 level in the target language leaves more questions unanswered in each conversation than could be clarified within this conversation; a tandem allows more interruptions than an administrative conversation in a town hall; a conversation between experienced tandem partners allows more interruptions than a first tandem session, etc.

33In tandem situations or lingua franca conversations, we can assume that the interlocutors also adapt to this situation on the production side, which was studied in particular in research on linguistic and conversational adjustment (Long). It would now be interesting to study to what extent the so-called foreigner or teacher talk is transformed into a characteristic 'tandem talk' in the specific tandem situation. In contrast to the conversation in lingua franca, the main intention of the tandem conversation is to mutually improve the partner’s target language. The 'gift' in reciprocity in tandem is one's own language and culture, which serves the partner as the perfect example of one of many possible realizations of their target language and culture. In addition, one of the tandem's goals is to ensure whether the meanings designed during the conversation are correct or not. Therefore, we can expect a different application of the aforementioned communication maxims, a constant progression of simplified speech (e.g. restricted vocabulary, syntactically and propositionally less complex utterances, a tendency to accept unintentional topic-switches) in the linguistic fields covered by tandem learners, as well as a particularly awareness of the model function, which each of them performs for the other.

34The aspects of ambiguity tolerance on the one hand and conversational adjustment on the other are of particular relevance from a linguistic point of view for reciprocity in communication and society in intercultural situations and can significantly help to understand the functioning of communicative reciprocity in tandem. They show that research into communication between different native speakers in the intercultural context has already yielded many results on how people react when they assume that the common ground between interlocutors is not sufficient. When someone is perceived as foreign because of his language skills and behavior, interlocutors adjust both their expectations of understanding and their linguistic behavior. To assume that functioning communication and mutual understanding means the use of the same representations and concepts is therefore implausible in the intercultural context. The extent to which representations and concepts actually coincide in a specific case must first be proved in communicative action, primarily by the fact that the expression of one allows the expression of the other and in the second place by enabling joint action.

35Tandem conversations serve to increase the common ground of representations and conventions, not by agreeing on the same conventions and concepts, but by understanding and practicing those of the partner. Intercultural communication competence therefore means (1) to recognize the differences between symbols, concepts, representations and conventions, (2) to acknowledge and learn to appreciate them in order to finally (3) be able to apply them in a context-sensitive way. While these skills can be promoted with training, it remains difficult to acquire them outside of reciprocal communicative exchanges, which is the particular importance of cultural immersion via exchange programs as well as tandem.

9. Conclusions: A universal norm for culturally specific communication

36In summary, there are very different concepts of reciprocity, which, of course, could not be fully presented here. Instead, we have distinguished somewhat schematically between debates that describe psychological and social processes. This text has made visible the interface between the linguistic and social-anthropological approaches of reciprocity. It has shown that the psychological processes in communication, some of which have been called reciprocity, are actually egocentric assumptions that alter works and interprets in a similar way to ego. Therefore, there is little point in calling the psychological process reciprocity, especially since it would create confusion in the field of the general reciprocity debate around symbolic exchange. In this respect, it is better to call this process, as in the intercultural debate, the "egocentric assumption of the interlocutor."

37To this end, we have argued that encountering other cultural contexts can lead precisely to the learner's reflection that this assumption of the interlocutor is not always valid. In the appropriation of the foreign language and especially in the encounter situation in tandem it becomes clear sooner or later that the concepts behind the words can be quite different and are realized within other communicative conventions. To realize that what is salient or accessible to oneself can be quite different to what is salient to the interlocutor can initiate a mental change. It is the beginning of the modification of what could be called a 'perspective cultural egocentrism of the interlocutor', and its modification is seen by various intercultural theories as central to intercultural competence. These are psychological processes that, like alignment, are important for communicative reciprocity, but should not be confused with it. Alignment research explains why communicative reciprocity is done so quickly, but it is not yet clear how much automated primitive priming can be attributed and how much depends on memory. In addition, it has been criticized that alignment theory has not yet sufficiently clarified the need to produce common ground – but for inter- and transcultural encounters this is an essential question, because one cannot presuppose a common frame of reference.

38Linguistic adjustment is also an important part of reciprocity, which usually appears in encounters between interlocutors of different languages. As we have already stated, the adjustments of foreigner talk probably differ from the language style that could be called 'tandem talk'. Although we may have a relatively clear idea of how this style of language works, it would be necessary to determine this tandem talk in more detail, especially with regard to the importance of reciprocity. However, both foreigner and tandem talks are in principle only different types of listener-directed speech styles like learner talk, elderly talk, baby talk, etc. All these processes of alignment and adjustment can be easily observed in the linguistic processes in tandem, and at the same time they are even often presented and commented on as perceived characteristics of the interlocutors' culture, because in tandem the interlocutors' language and communicative habits are part of the cultural gift.

39The study of reciprocity in communication in tandem thus takes on a much broader significance. The aforementioned reciprocity standard in communication takes on a completely different significance: It is not a prescriptive norm like other conversation maxims, but a descriptive norm. It is understood by the author in the interdisciplinary debate between socio-anthropological and linguistic approaches as the basis for communicative reciprocity in symbolic giving and taking, which is a way of establishing and solidifying meanings, concepts and communicative conventions in social and cultural contexts. As such it can be investigated and explained because it does not presuppose certain communication maxims, but observes their application. The norm of communicative reciprocity claims to be a universal norm, while other communication maxims like 'rationality' can be realized in a culturally specific way. In the intercultural context, it has also been shown that those maxims are being applied, which allow interlocutors to cope with a high rate of ambiguity and which modify the rules of language production according to each other's language competences. It is important to see that the linguistic concept of reciprocity can be merged with the socio-anthropological concept; in social life they are closely linked to each other and both research traditions can mutually promote understanding of reciprocity. The established concept of reciprocity in tandem will not disappear in the future, but in the knowledge that it corresponds more to the socio-anthropological concept of reciprocity, it would be plausible in research and teaching to increasingly take into account the definition and norm of communicative reciprocity.

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1 Our translation proposal for: "[…] eine Struktur wechselseitiger Unterstellungen der Interaktionsbeteiligten, die davon ausgehen, dass ihre Partner ebenso wie sie selbst bereit und in der Lage sind, die Verfahren der Bedeutungskonstitution und der Durchführung von Aktivitätskomplexen anzuwenden, und dass ihre Partner ihnen dasselbe unterstellen." (Kallmeyer 63f)

2 Our translation proposal for: "[…] Gründe für mögliche Verstehensprobleme psychologisierend im Bereich unterschiedlicher Einstellungen lokalisieren." (Müller-Jacquier 22)

3 Our translation proposal for: "[…] ob alle wollen können, dass in meiner Lage jedermann nach derselben Maxime verfährt." (Habermas "Erläuterungen" 105)

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Lennart Koch, « Lost in the Jungle of Terminology: Reciprocity in Different Fields of Study », Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité [En ligne], Vol. 39 N°1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 03 février 2020, consulté le 07 juillet 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Lennart Koch

Lennart Koch (PhD, Ruhr-Universität Bochum) is Associate professor and teaches German culture, literature and language in the University of Oviedo, Spain. He has published on literature (romanticism, post-unification), cultural studies and didactics of language and literature. Recent research includes counselling in language learning, tandem, autonomy and reciprocity.

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