"Misunderstanding" and (mis)interpretation as strategic tools in intercultural interactions between preschool children

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8 Scopus citations


Misunderstandings in intercultural interactions are often taken as givens - unintentional side effects of coming to interactions with different languages and frames of reference - but also as givens that with enough effort and learning on the parts of participants might be repaired or even avoided. Researchers have warned, however, that assuming the intercultural-ness of these interactions to be the a priori cause of misunderstandings ignores possibly more complex, and less comfortable, explanations involving power relations and social identities. Drawing on data from a year-long ethnography of 11 Nepali- and Turkish-speaking children learning English in preschool in the United States, this paper argues that in some cases, it is less helpful to see intercultural-ness as a cause of misunderstanding than as an alibi for it. Through the lens of "strategic misunderstanding", this paper shows how one English-speaking student exploited the gap in language ability and in symbolic power between himself and an English language learner (ELL) peer in order to fake misunderstanding and thus accomplish his own social aims.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-493
Number of pages23
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 31 2016


  • ELL
  • ascription of incompetence
  • children
  • intercultural communication
  • positioning
  • preschool
  • strategic misunderstanding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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