The links between national culture, language, and thought have long been the focus of philosophers, anthropologists and linguists’ attention. Just like culture can be defined in a variety of ways, language covers various aspects of verbal communication. Its most commonly considered facet in relation with national culture is the language spoken by a nation – i.e. English, German, Mandarin, to name but a few – and the specific worldview it entails. 19th century anthropologists’ and linguists’ demonstrations rest on language abstract system and consider culture as determining people’s behaviour. Conversely, what we mean by culture is an interpretation frame and language is not considered as a system, but at the discourse level, i.e. the apparently random way people dig into it to express themselves (cf. Saussure’s distinction between language and parole, or discourse, i.e. what an individual makes of it).
When people speak about themselves, about their work, their experience…, their discourse simultaneously conveys facts, emotions, opinions, and the interpretation frame underpinning their representations. What matters is not so much what they say as how they say it. The metaphors used to describe a situation, the semantics of the words selected to characterize it, or even the grammatical structures supporting their assertions work as indices that guide our work. Although qualitative analysis is generally sufficient to bring such elements to light, a more linguistic approach can also be performed through Cross-Cultural Discourse Analysis (CCDA). Compared with what people from another national culture say, or would say, about a similar situation, these indices gradually sketch the outlines of the frame through which they decipher the social situation encountered, and ultimately lead to the interpretation frames that characterize their national culture. This is true even when people borrow another language, as they tend to simply transfer their mother tongue formulations into it.