The pragmatics of mimesis: A case study of intercultural email communication
Researchers have pursued interest in how the mimetic practice types of convention and ritual influence the ways in which people build up and maintain interpersonal relationships. Arguably, mimetic interactional acts that animate conventional and ritual practices are key to capturing fundamental aspects of interpersonal phenomena such as politeness, impoliteness, and humour, since language users tend to produce and interpret interpersonal behaviour through normative and repetitive moves, which may develop into routines. Despite the importance of mimetic acts in language use, little research has been done on mimesis itself in the realm of interpersonal pragmatics even though memes themselves have received attention. In this paper, we consider how mimetic chunks of interaction may develop into localised convention and possibly ritual by examining a corpus of 955 business emails between a British sole trader and her international clients, specifically focussing on mimetic practices present in greeting, signing-off and conversation topic. In particular, we attempt to show that by looking into habitual and everyday communication, the origins of conventional and ritual practices may be uncovered. A marked convergence towards using the same greeting or sign- off convention is noticeable in our quantitative data analysis and when examining the data qualitatively. The data also show that participants occasionally engage in relational practices that involve repeated and consistent responses to the same stimuli. The results indicate a tendency for accommodative communicative practices to be used, although there is no point at which mimesis can be interpreted as permanently “switched on”.