'How to speak conflict' – Conflictuality in linguistic communication

Lutz Rzehak

Conflictuality is understood here as the incongruity of individual or group interests, aims and values that is an intrinsic feature of any social interaction. As related to linguistic communication it is assumed that in every linguistic interaction social boundaries are drawn, commented, crossed and negotiated in an explicit or implicit way. In the first project phase the diversity of linguistic strategies in relation to conflictuality was studied. For the study of the relation of language and conflict an area of conflict had been chosen in the first project phase where language was embedded not only in the conflict induced discourse but where language itself presented a point of contention. This was the relationship between the languages Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. In the second phase the question will be studied how speaking opens and forms spheres of communication under the conditions of real or perceived conflictuality, how linguistic behavior helps negotiating social boundaries and how such boundary work is brought into politicized and other conflict-laden discourses. Empirical research is based upon linguistic utterances in the languages Dari, Persia, Pashto, Tajik and Balochi. Data will be gathered out of original communication situations.

The project's contribution to theory will be the attempt to suggest to communication linguistics the almost unstudied category of conflictuality and to establish this category on a broad empirical basis. In the theoretical approach of functional grammar linguistic systems are regarded functionally, i.e. as means of communication and of the exchange of ideas. Correspondingly, linguistic signs are studied in relation to their extra-lingual functions. In the focus of research is the contextual fixedness of grammatical structures as derived from the empirical data. In this sense functional grammar can be understood as a grammar of functional-semantic fields and categorical situations. Here a functional-semantic field is a system of linguistic features on various levels of language (morphology, syntax, word formation, etc.). These features are outlined and combined for a particular speech community and for a particular interaction of their semantic functions.

Conflictuality has not yet been regarded as a functional-semantic field of functional grammar. But the situation in the areas that are studied in the Crossroads-Asia project offers numerous starting points for studying the category of conflictuality in terms of communication linguistics and functional grammar. Most striking is the fact that in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the more recent past also Tajikistan social and political conflicts were and are often carried out militarily whereas linguistic behavior as based on the etiquette and on cultural values is explicitly geared to avoid any conflict.

The project will have its focus on spoken language that due to the fleetingness of utterances follows other rules than the written language. For the project communication acts in the public sphere like talk shows, parliamentary debates and others will be studied. The project will try to find out if in the realization of linguistic utterances specific mechanisms of oral interaction can be found that could be assigned to the functional-semantic field of conflictuality.