A face model of language choice

Jim O'Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


This paper introduces a fresh way of looking at language choice in intercultural communication. Its starting point is the recognition of the need for a social-psychological approach (section 1). However, the concepts which have so far been employed within this approach run into difficulties when applied to ‘non-traditional’ multilingual settings; that is, those in which more than two languages are salient, participation is essentially temporary, participants' language repertoires only partially overlap and no ingroup-outgroup dichotomy is relevant (section 2). In such settings, interactant identities are radically dependent on situation and function not so much as a priori inputs to interaction but more as outcomes of it (section 3). It is argued that language choice is a significant means by which they emerge and that Goffman's notion of face - being contingent on situation -is an ideal framework (section 4). The model proposes three basic aspects of face which can be instantiated through language choice (section 5) and shows how the precise nature of interactants' faces are determined by a combination of their respective relations of ‘ownership’ to the language chosen and the relative status of this language (section 6). Their faces are thus interdependent. The ‘face triangle’ is offered as a way of capturing the model in graphic form (section 7).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-268
Number of pages24
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2001
Externally publishedYes


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