Dealing with Dragons: A Linguistic Perspective on Intercultural Business Communication in China
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Mandarin Chinese is often regarded as a difficult language to master. In addition to being a tonal language it contains consonant and vowel sounds that speakers of Germanic and Romance languages may be unfamiliar with. Although it is well-established that pronunciation errors are associated with foreign accent and foreign accent can influence perceived personalities of speakers, little is known on how different types of pronunciation errors in L2 Chinese influence native listener’s perception of attributes important to business communication in L2 Chinese compared to native listeners’ perception of linguistic attributes. The present study was conducted to address exactly this question. Short sentences that contain various types of errors were composed and these sentences were then recorded by a Dutch learner of Chinese. Native speakers of Chinese were asked to rate these recorded sentences on several traits regarding personality and linguistic ability. The results indicated that erroneous speech had a significant impact on ratings for linguistic ability. The more errors in pronunciation, the lower his ability to speak the language was rated by native listeners. On the other hand, the effects of erroneous speech on ratings for business communication attributes were less clear. It was clear, however, that segmental errors had a stronger impact on the ratings for business communication attributes than tonal errors. Within the category of segmental errors, vowel errors led to significantly more negative scores than consonantal errors in two-thirds of the cases. A clear difference in the impact small and large tonal errors had on the ratings was only visible for linguistic attributes.