Julia Varfolomeieva

Kamianets-Podilskyi Ivan Ohiienko National University

Scientific Supervisor: Matkovska M. V.



This paper is devoted to the pragmatic characteristics of intercultural English-speaking communication. The author examines linguistic means that are used for realization of of the model of intercultural communication between the “whites” and the “blacks”, symbolizing the racist policy, exercised by Joseph Conrad in the system of his literary language.

Key words: semantics, pragmatics, linguistic culturology, communicative behavior, category.

We are all familiar with the term Pragmatics, which is the study of language from the point of view of language users, whose linguistic choices are affected by the socio-cultural context of interaction. There are three approaches to politeness which were discussed by Lakoff (1937), Brown and Levinson (1978/1987) and Leech (1983). All of them were influenced by the idea of communicative competence introduced by Hymes (1972) and built on Grice’s (1975) Cooperative Principle (CP). Lakoff was the first to explicitly link pragmatic knowledge with politeness phenomena. Her main ideas were based on the politeness as the system of interpersonal relations and it usage in order to minimize the conflicts in the intercultural communication.

Brown and Levinson (1987) express an interest in the relation between form and complex inference and cultural differences. Their work offers an extensive set of linguistic strategies and tools to apply to new sets of data in an endeavor to understand the global patterns of pragmatic competence [3, p. 41].

Leech highlights the aspects of usage of pragmatics in the interaction between the Politeness Principle (PP), working in the close connection with Grice’s (CP). Such interaction provides a vivid communicative behavior and pragmatic competence [3, p. 42].

The famous writer Josef Conrad wrote a novel The Heart of Darkness, that shows us the hard colonial and slave times. The novel is about different issues: navigating by sea in shallow – draft boat, selling, buying and exchanging commodities, investigation of unknown regions, colonization and exploitation, relation between people of different races and origins. The story takes place in the heart of Congo, where the author started his fight with the “white” and “black” concepts.

The main character – Marlow tries to assert that England was one day one of the dark and gloomy places on earth (when the Romans first came to England) and the River Thames was that gate for discovers and messengers of civilization. Besides, Conrad introduces the significance of “light / dark” and “white/black” indicating that “light/white” and “dark/black” are symbols of good and evil. This tendency to look at the world in terms of opposites is called Polarization. Conrad exploits the imagery of “black” and “white”, “light” and “dark” in a number of ways. Darkness is night, the unknown, the impenetrable, the primitive, the evil. “White” is ivory, the beautiful luxury of civilized man which is the root of all evil in the darkness.

One essential reason why “light” becomes more important at one moment is that this concept invites the reader to activate the word’s metaphorical potential. Light is no ordinary metaphor, however. For a European reader it is also a rich symbol – a symbol of European and more broadly Western religion, culture and civilization [2].

         Such symbolic features of “black” and “white” have a very deep meaning. In such a way we may characterize the influence of communication and cultural component in the colonial period [1].

This widespread concept is based on the political correctness and changing the offensive words into euphemisms. In the United States some of these groups are African American, Asian American, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino American and European American.

The model of intercultural communication is represented in some extracts from the text, pointing out sections where racist language is most visible: The Africans are described as “black bones”, “black shapes”, “savage”, “the white of their eyes glistening”, with “faces like grotesque masks”, and in place of speech they “made a violent babble of uncouth sounds”. Conrad’s defense argued that “the differences visible in his descriptions of blacks and whites are fundamentally descriptive observations as perceived by a man (Marlow) who has not been exposed to such a different culture. In these examples we observe discrimination which is described by racist language.

Marlow always thought white people and civilization to stay only at the side of prosperity. And there always was a rigid distinctions between the West and the Orient: “The river Thames and the Congo in the opening scene of the novel turn out to be pretty similar, and when Marlow enlists the twenty ‘cannibals’ as crewmen he describes them as ‘fine fellows’ or ‘men one could work with’ while he exposes the hypocrisy of the European Imperialist agents”. Marlow says:

They were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, and they were nothing earthly now – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation” [5].

Here we may conclude that the model of intercultural communication between “white” and “black” symbolizes the racist policy. In other words, the natives are not looked after by the white men and simply crawl away to die when they can’t work anymore. All these words transfer the cultural ignorance. It was a true racism without any hue of politeness or restrained behavior.

Marlow’s ambivalence dramatizes the sometimes ambiguous double nature of other cultures [4, p.7]. When he tries to reveal his self-image, self-knowledge, self-creation, self-esteem and self-awareness, all his thoughts about Afro Americans start drastically changing. Seeing the Europeans as Africans might challenge the self-evidence of the European perspective and opens up new possibilities of perception. “The Heart o f Darkness” opens the possibility of cross-cultural analysis on the basis of cultural stereotypes and prejudices.

Moreover, there are some cultural distinctions that have an impact on communication. It goes without saying that cultures differ in the way in which they promote individualist and collectivist thinking and behaving. As far as the United Kingdom and European countries belong to the individualist cultures, they teach their members the importance of individual values such as power, achievement, hedonism and stimulation. That’s why the colonialists are depicted here as powerful and ruthless people, who search only profit and wealth. And African cultures are on the contrary the collectivist ones. They teach members the importance of group values such as benevolence, tradition, and conformity. They try to find a compromise and serve for the benefit of society. In this way we may clearly understand the difference in mentality and behavior between these cultures. Another difference is based on the indulgence and restraint lifestyle. Cultures high in indulgence are those that emphasize the gratification of desires; they focus on having fun and enjoying life (European and Western countries). Restraint (African) cultures, on the other hand, have more people who are unhappy: people who see themselves as lacking control of their own lives and with little or no leisure time to engage in fun activities. Of course, all these divergences between cultures have the political and stereotypical background. More powerful countries always tried to conquer the weaker ones to maintain their order and leadership.

 Throughout the story, the narrator uses snarl words with cruel meaning when describing nonwhites. Marlow, the protagonist of the story, acts as the narrator for most of the story, and his descriptions of the nonwhite characters seem to be embedded in the idea that the African people were horrid creatures and animal like. With such non-verbal messages as: the colour of the skin, or the social position we highlight the pragmatic effect in the intercultural communication. Conrad’s story effectively painted the picture of the depravity of racism, and showed the intercultural communication.


  1. Darkness in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Linguistic and Stylistic Analysis. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 3, 2013: webpage. URL:
  2. European Character Construction in Heart of Darkness & Lord Jim: webpage. URL:
  3. New Perspectives on (Im) Politeness and Interpersonal Communication: webpage.URL:
  4. Paul B. Armstrong. Heart o f Darkness and the epistemology of cultural differences: webpage. URL: file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/648-1986-1-SM.pdf
  5. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad: webpage. URL: